BUFFALO - It’s officially NHL Draft season.

And Flames General Manager Craig Conroy knows the next days and weeks can help shape the future of the franchise.

Front office personnel from around the league have descended upon KeyBank Center this week for the NHL Scouting Combine - days of player interviews followed by fitness testing sessions for the NHL Draft’s class of 2024.

“It’s a great experience,” Conroy said Tuesday during a break in the meeting schedule. “The one thing, you’ve watched the kids all year, and then to have ‘em come in, and actually see them, talk to them, see what kind of personality they have. You’re looking to see how big they are, what size, can they put on some weight.

“It’s definitely fun to be here and it’s always a good time.”

It’s also an important time.

The Flames hold a bevy of picks - eight in the first four rounds including picks No. 9 and No. 28 in Round 1 - so it’s safe to say this year’s draft offers Conroy the opportunity to add to Calgary’s growing prospect pool.

“When we look how we’re going to build our team moving forward, the draft is a huge part of it,” he said. “We’re going to have to have success in the draft to get where we want, to become a Stanley Cup champion. It starts here, and this is a huge draft for us, to have that draft capital.

“I think that’s why this is the most kids we’ve ever interviewed at once, because we’ve never had this many picks, especially early on. It’s really going to change the franchise.”

Here on the suite level of the Buffalo Sabres’ home rink, there are head-nods, polite hellos, and NHL hopefuls seated outside doors emblazoned with each club’s logo.

Calgary is sandwiched in an all-Canadian corner - their interview suite between Vancouver and Montreal’s - with Conroy, Director of Amateur Scouting Tod Button, President of Hockey Operations Don Maloney, Senior VP of Hockey Operations and Assistant General Manager David Nonis, and more among the contingent meeting with prospects this week.

The GM on meeting the prospects, the draft and more

But Conroy’s also got some high-profile help in the room.

His right winger from his playing days in Calgary, Jarome Iginla.

“It’s great to have him here,” Conroy said. "The one thing, he knows these kids. He’s coached when he was in Boston and in Kelowna. He’s known these kids since they were real young, so he’s got a real good grasp on who they are, maybe not the Europeans so much, but all the North Americans. 

“It’s great to have him, and I mean when you can have maybe, for me, the greatest player in franchise history to be sitting in there, selling Calgary to the kids, it’s a huge bonus.”

This week, it’s all about making connections. 

Getting to know the people, as opposed to merely the players.

And even though it’s surely nerve-wracking for the teenagers being interviewed, it’s clear to Conroy that these budding NHL stars are mature beyond their years.

“It’s nice to see their personality, see what they’re like,” he said. “It’s a tough environment, you have nine, 10 guys in a room from the NHL team and the way they come in, it’s amazing how the kids handle it nowadays. 

“I was thinking back to when I started, how nervous they were, they’re real professionals now, they come and they just know what they’re doing. It’s amazing to watch.”

The interview sessions will continue - players clad in team apparel marching back and forth between the arena and the hotel across the street.

Fitness testing is set to begin on Friday, with a lengthy session scheduled for Saturday at Buffalo’s HarborCenter.

Conroy’s looking forward to that aspect of the Combine, too, as he and his group continue to get ready for another big weekend - in Las Vegas at the end of the month.

“We have our strength coach come in,” he said of this weekend’s testing sessions, which offer yet another angle of each of the 100 players invited to the Combine. “Are they athletic? What room to grow? Because some kids come in extremely strong, like ‘Is this a finished product?’ or do they have room to grow? We’re looking at all that. It’s great to see body type, size, because on the ice it’s a little bit deceiving, some guys you think were bigger, some guys you thought were smaller. It’s just a great chance to see them, and just one more thing. 

“We’re trying to gather all the information, the intel behind, see what he’s like as a person and then make the best pick possible at each one.”