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Devils GM won't say if they'll draft Hughes, Kakko or trade No. 1 pick

Shero discusses top prospects with NHL.com from Combine

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Ray Shero was smiling when he left the New Jersey Devils' suite at the 2019 NHL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, about three hours after they interviewed top prospect Jack Hughes.

"It went well," the Devils general manager said. "We knew a lot about him coming in already. Whatever happens, we know we're going to get a good player."

Hughes had three assists playing seven games for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship this month. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound center is projected to be taken by the Devils with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, after New Jersey moved up two spots by winning the NHL Draft Lottery.

 

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Kaapo Kakko, projected to be the No. 2 pick by the New York Rangers, is not attending the combine, choosing instead to remain in Finland for celebrations after the 6-foot-2, 194-pound right wing scored seven points (six goals, one assist) in 10 games to help it win the World Championship.

In a wide-ranging interview with NHL.com, Shero talked about Hughes and Kakko, how playing at the World Championship helped them, and how no one has approached the Devils about trading for the No. 1 pick.

How did your interview with Hughes go? And how much does Kakko's decision not to come to Buffalo for the combine effect your research, in any way?

"You only have 20 minutes, but it's no different than any other guy. Obviously we have a lot of info on Kaapo. Hopefully we have a chance to talk to him before the draft in Vancouver (June 21-22). We had the No. 1 pick in 2017 too, and I had the chance to visit with both Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick that year (the Devils drafted Hischier). Because Kaapo and Jack both decided to play in the Worlds this year, the timing was different."

Video: Kaapo Kakko lands at No. 2 on Draft Prospects list

Have teams approached you about trying to move up for that No. 1 pick, even though it's clear you're going to keep it?

"I haven't got any of that. I think it's early in the process too. It's not surprising. I think it was the same case two years ago. Maybe after the combine. The week of the draft, there were some. But everyone's trying to keep it confidential."

How was playing at the Worlds beneficial for Jack and Kaapo?

"I think it was an outstanding experience for both. Kaapo, even when he wasn't getting points, he was part of that championship and the experience was great. Jack, it was a little different. He could have shut it down after the U-18s and golf, but he decided to go to the Worlds. Just the life experiences he went through. He's never played with these guys before -- training staff, coaches -- but he wanted the experience. And it was great to see him play so well against Russia the last game (two assists playing 12:52 in a 4-3 loss). I think the way he handled the adjustments to his game. For both guys, I think it was a really good experience."

For Jack, Team USA had some ties to both the Devils and you, didn't it?

"Yeah it did. Colin White sat next to Jack with Team USA and I told Jack that Colin was my son Chris' roommate at Boston College a few years ago, so that was kind of funny. But, you know, our goalie, Cory Schneider, was there. The family program starts. Cory brought his wife and kids. Jack's never been through that stuff, but that's what's going to be ahead of him. I think it was really good." (Devils coach John Hynes was an assistant for the United States.)

Video: Jack Hughes ranks No. 1 on Draft Prospects list

The thinking is, whichever of the two top prospects you don't take, your rivals, the New York Rangers, will select at No. 2. How do you feel about the comparisons that will be made between those two for years to come, especially playing in the same market?

"With us, the thing with New York and New Jersey is that we need rivalries. Our brand is to be relevant, and that's what we want to do. The fact is, the Rangers are picking second, they're just across the Hudson River, and what the heck's wrong with that? Hopefully both teams get really good players. And we all know that one player can't carry a team."

Similar comparisons were made when you picked Hischier No. 1 and the Philadelphia Flyers took Patrick No. 2 in 2017. You've been coy in not revealing who you might take this time around, but do the experiences of two years ago effect your thinking this time around?

"In 2017 when we had the first pick, Philadelphia was picking right behind us at No. 2. They're just down the [New Jersey] Turnpike from us. Do you think differently if, say, [the Dallas Stars were] picking behind us? I mean, how many times do we play the Rangers this year? Or Philly? Four or five times? Didn't it used to be 10 times back in the day? Hopefully we'll play at lot more, because that would mean we're in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Either way, I'm not going to think about it any differently than I did a couple of years ago. We had Philadelphia behind us and we knew they were going to get a good player and we were going to get a good player. At the end of the day, this is the top of the draft and everyone is going to get a good player. We're just worried about the New Jersey Devils. That's it."

Have you talked to Taylor Hall about Hughes, given that they've skated together in past summers?

"No, I haven't. I should probably ask Jack about Taylor (laughs). No, I think it's neat, that relationship. I think it's kind of cool. I think they're both going to be training again this summer with Andy O'Brien. I think that would be awesome." (Hall is a forward for the Devils).

In 2017 you didn't tell the majority of your staff who you were going to take at No. 1. ... Any plans on being as secretive this time around concerning the identity of your choice?

"The owners will know. I don't know if I did that on purpose in 2017. Whatever the case, it'll be good for us. We have the first overall pick, three second-round picks, two third-round picks, so we have a lot of those. Our scouts, our personnel guys, they've worked hard scouting these guys, so I wouldn't (keep it from them). We always try to see if we can get a consensus."

 

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