BUFFALO -- Ray Shero might not have a rooting interest in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, but he has a special place in his heart for the two teams playing for the Cup, having worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.
The New Jersey Devils general manager, who is at the NHL Scouting Combine here this week, reflected on his time as assistant GM of the Predators for their first seven seasons (1998-2006) and GM of the Penguins for eight (2006-14).
"It's great to see what has gone on in Nashville, in terms of building that team, and how those young players for Pittsburgh are doing so well; the [Jake] Guentzels, [Conor] Shearys, [Bryan] Rusts, and [Matt] Murrays of the world," Shero said. "I feel good for the scouting staff that did such a great job in drafting those guys. I'm happy for them. A big reason for where they are is because of some of those younger players."
Shero was the Penguins GM when they drafted those players he named. He was also there when Pittsburgh acquired left wing Chris Kunitz, along with center Eric Tangradi, from the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Ryan Whitney on Feb. 26, 2009.
Kunitz had 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 24 games in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs to help the Penguins to their third Stanley Cup title, and had 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in the 2016 playoffs to help Pittsburgh win the Cup. He scored his second goal of this year's playoffs 5:09 into the second overtime to give the Penguins a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Kunitz had two assists in the Penguins' 4-1 win in Game 2 of the Final on Wednesday, giving him nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 16 playoff games. Pittsburgh leads the best-of-7 series 2-0, with Game 3 in Nashville on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
"I had a big smile on my face when [Kunitz] scored that overtime goal," Shero said. "You get satisfaction from that for sure, but again, it's their time. [Penguins GM] Jim Rutherford runs the team and has done a fantastic job, just like when we won it on '09. Everyone on the staff has a little piece along the way, but this is Jimmy's team now and I'm happy for [Penguins co-owner/chairman] Mario Lemieux.
"And I think it's fantastic that [Predators GM] David Poile is in the Final and the way in which the city of Nashville has just embraced that team."
Shero said that though he's been busy conducting interviews of the top NHL Draft-eligible prospects this week, he's interested in the Final. He said he felt good for Penguins centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin during the 2016 Stanley Cup run.
"I was happy for the legacy of Sid and Geno that they won it last season and if they win this year, that's money," he said.
Shero said he didn't watch the first half of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, but turned it on just in time to see Guentzel, a rookie who was his third-round pick (No. 77) in the 2013 NHL Draft, score his fourth game-winning goal of the postseason. Guentzel scored his fifth Wednesday and has a playoff-high 12 goals.
Shero, 54, said he uses lessons learned from Poile.
"He's incredibly organized, detailed and he empowers people in terms of doing their job and growing," Shero said. "He solicits opinions from players, trainers, scouts, his assistant GM and head coach, and he's very decisive. It's hard to put into words how he deals with people but it really defines who he is and he treats everyone with respect.
"It's why he's lasted a long time in the business; people are happy for him and where he is now. He's respected by everyone and he certainly earned every bit of it."