The New Jersey Devils likely won't determine what they will do with the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft until the days leading up to event, which will be held at United Center in Chicago on June 23-24.
"Sometimes we'll bring kids to our home cities to conduct interviews, and obviously you throw in the trade possibilities, so this stuff will go right down to the week of the draft," Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron said this week. "[Devils general manager] Ray Shero has told me to prepare like we're making the No. 1 pick, so that's what we'll do."
The Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery on April 29 despite having an 8.5 percent chance.
After scoring 180 goals last season, third-fewest in the NHL behind the Colorado Avalanche (165) and Vancouver Canucks (178), the Devils are expected to select right-handed center Nolan Patrick of Brandon of the Western Hockey League or left-handed center Nico Hischier of Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Castron said the Devils will interview each player during the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo from May 29-June 3.
Patrick, No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in 33 games as Brandon captain in his third season in the WHL. He missed 35 games with an upper-body injury and four WHL playoff games with a lower-body injury.
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"It's difficult because of the amount of time [Patrick] missed this year," Castron said. "It doesn't devalue him in any way, but we have to do a lot of homework. I don't even know how healthy he was for the games he did play. We probably saw the real Nolan Patrick [in 2015-16] as an underage player."
In 2015-16, Patrick tied for the WHL playoff scoring lead with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 games and was named MVP of the WHL playoffs after helping Brandon win the league championship. He had 102 points (41 goals, 61 assists) in 72 regular-season games.
Castron said Patrick's injury issues this season won't have much influence on his or the Devils' thought process.
"I don't even worry about the injuries," Castron said. "As long as our doctors are comfortable that he won't have any major problems, I don't really worry about it. … Everyone gets injured. In his defense, Patrick has been around for three seasons in the WHL, and has been expected to be the top pick of this draft for the past two seasons. When you're under the microscope, everyone starts looking for the negative instead of the positive."
Hischier, No. 2 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 57 games in his first season after arriving from his native Switzerland. He won the Mike Bossy Trophy as the best professional prospect in the QMJHL and the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the offensive rookie of the year.
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Castron said he has been impressed by Hischier's rise up the rankings this season.
"He's a [heck] of a player and has done everything you could expect for a top-rated prospect," he said. "I think entering the season half, the NHL teams would have had him as a slam-dunk first-rounder and maybe 10 teams would have him as a second-rounder. But then he lights up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and then single-handedly almost beat the United States at the 2017 World Junior Championship."
Hischier had seven points (four goals, three assists) in five games for Switzerland at the 2017 WJC, and scored twice in a 3-2 loss to the United States in the quarterfinal round.
"Hischier went from a first-rounder to a top-10 player to a top-five player after the World Junior tournament," Castron said, "and now he's a sparring partner for Nolan Patrick."