BUFFALO, N.Y. - By the time the week ends, Devils management will have met with more than 65 prospects at the 2017 NHL Scouting Combine. With 11 picks, including the first-overall selection, the Devils will have plenty of decisions to make at next month's draft, and interviews conducted here at KeyBank Center will help the team decide whose names they will call on stage in Chicago. I met with Devils general manager Ray Shero to find out more about what happens in the Devils' interview suite.
Q: What do you get out of the interview process?
A: Yesterday was our first day of interviews and they were really good. For a lot of the kids, it was the first time I had met them. I've seen some of these kids play, but it was really great to see some of the different personalities and backgrounds and where they're from, and trying to find out as much as you can in the 20 minutes, especially from an off-ice perspective.
Q: What do you do during the interviews?
A: For me, it's more about getting to meet the kids, and they all have a different story to tell and hopefully if you ask the right questions, you can find out more about them. [Director of team and player development] Dr. Aimee Kimball asks about 80 percent of the questions as we try to put a psychological profile together and [director of amateur scouting] Paul Castron, [assistant director of amateur scouting] Gates Orlando and [senior director of player personnel] Dan MacKinnon, who have seen these kids play the most, will ask some hockey questions, and I'm just there as an interested observer who gathers all this information from other people and can make a decision that's beneficial for the Devils.
Q: You mentioned Dr. Aimee Kimball. What is the significance of her role here?
A: She was with me in Pittsburgh. I hired her my first year there and she's done a lot with the players in terms of developing mental skills, and it was great having her there in Pittsburgh, but even more so to have her work with the players in the AHL in Wilkes-Barre, and you've seen a lot of the players she's worked with graduate over the years to the NHL and win the Stanley Cup and be back in the Final this year. What I've found with her is that her questions are different than our general questions. Finding out everything you can about a person in 20 minutes is not our area of expertise, but it is for her. It's just another piece of information for us, and she's a beneficial part of the draft process for us.
Q: It's been a month since the Devils won the draft lottery, and you've been very busy trying to get to know many of the top prospects. What has that process been like?
A: Really educational and actually lot of fun. Paul Castron and I traveled to Winnipeg to see Nolan Patrick in his environment and the same with Nico Hischier and Miro Heiskanen. I think it's an important step for these kids and it's obviously important for us. I don't know that I'm going to learn anything by spending three, four, five hours with these kids that I'm going to solely base a decision on, but in five years from now I don't want to look back and wish I had done more. It's an important time for us and our scouts because they're doing most of the work, and I just don't want to screw it up for them.
Q: How has winning the lottery changed your approach to the draft this year?
A: When we were slated to pick fifth heading into the lottery, we knew we were picking a good player, but you're also thinking about what it would cost to trade up or what you'd want to trade down. Now that we're picking No. 1, the options are all with us. No one can trade for a spot above us and everyone's jockeying for position behind us. Interviews with these top kids - [Monday] we met with Nolan Patrick and [Tuesday] we have Nico Hischier and Miro Hieskanan and Cody Glass and Cale Makar - are all part of doing our due diligence and making the best choice for the organization.
Q: There's a lot of focus on the No. 1 pick, but how important are these interviews in helping you find those hidden gems in the later rounds?
A: It is so important to be able to find quality players in the third, fifth, sixth round. If you go back to the 1980 draft through 2000 or 2002, there's a Hall of Fame player in every draft and they're not all the No. 1 player - for this year's draft, hopefully it is, but the challenge for our scouts is to try to find that player. It's easy to get excited about the first round of the draft, but the scouts look forward to the second day even more because that's where they really go to work, and hopefully it pays off for us.
Q: Later this week the prospects will participate in physical testing. How much does that factor into your decision?
A: Some of these kids can really blow the tests out of the water because they're more physically mature, and some of these kids won't even be able to do one pull-up, and there are some kids that just got done playing in the Memorial Cup and try to do these tests after playing 100 games. So it's just another bit of information for us to have on a player, but what you're going to see is that the player that can't do a pull-up, in July, they'll be able to do eight and in training camp in September, they'll be able to do 12 because they're going to work at it. It's just all part of the process and learning more about each player.
Q: Do you have an idea what you're going to do with the No. 1 overall pick?
A: No. There's some good options and good players to choose from. I wish we had picks one, two, three, four and five. They're all great kids and great players and we know we'll get a good one, but no. I don't know what we're going to do with that pick, but we're getting there.
Q: What would it take for you to trade the pick?
A: I've gotten a couple calls the past week from teams just letting us know they'd be interested if we were to decide to trade it. We even had one get a little more specific about what they'd be willing to offer, and that's helpful and a little more engaging. I'm open to anything right now, I guess, but my focus is picking the best player for our organization and if there's something to think about, we'll definitely think about it, but that's not our focus right now.
Q: What happens over the next three weeks before the draft?
A: Next week will be about processing all the information we gather here. We've already had our amateur scouting meetings and we'll have more via conference calls next week to talk more about what we've learned and try to narrow our list a little bit. The next week is the week before the expansion draft, which will be a busy time, and then it's the week of the draft and we'll have a lot of important decisions to make.