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Devils' Conte sees value in unpredictable draft

by Mike G. Morreale

TORONTO -- The 2014 NHL Draft might be impossible to predict, but that doesn't necessarily mean scouts thirsting for new blood in their farm systems aren't chomping at the bit.

Take for instance New Jersey Devils veteran director of scouting David Conte, who has been projecting prospects for the organization for the past 30 years.

"I think there are some very unique and special players who will have long successful careers coming out of this draft class," Conte said. "I'm excited. Because there's not a consensus pick, there is a chance of getting players that you greatly value at a reduced price compared to years where there is a consensus."

The Devils own the No. 30 pick in the draft. The organization was originally told it would have to forfeit first-round picks in 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014 for attempting to circumvent the salary cap when it signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year deal in 2010. The NHL rescinded its decision in March, thus allowing New Jersey to keep a first-round pick this year. The team was given the last choice in the first round and was told it cannot trade that pick.

"My job is to pick the best player I can pick in the slot we have," Conte said.

Conte acknowledged that choosing the best player available in the draft, even in the early rounds, might be more challenging than in previous years.

"Who someone thinks is No. 1 might be No. 10 on the appraisal of what those attributes are going to be and what those needs would be for that team," Conte said. "Normally, it's always the best player but I think it's a little more complex this year than others."

The Devils have certainly stockpiled their prospect cupboard with high-caliber performers in recent years. Defensemen Eric Gelinas (2009, No. 54 overall) and Jon Merrill (2010, No. 38) played key roles this past season. Forwards Stefan Matteau (2012, No. 29) and Reid Boucher (2011, No. 99) and defensemen Steve Santini (2013, No. 42) and Damon Severson (2012, No. 60) are also progressing nicely.

"There are absolutely very good players in this draft," Conte said. "But there's very good players in similar values in several different ways so I think to establish a value consensus is an absolute impossibility."

Conte is very impressed with the international players eligible this year, including Kasperi Kapanen of KalPa in Finland and William Nylander of Modo in Sweden. The forwards are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top international skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft. They are also both the sons of longtime NHL players.

"How could you not like these players?" asked Conte. "With those hockey bloodlines, they're extremely talented. I actually played against Kapanen's grandfather, which really dates me and upsets me. I also played with his great uncle."


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