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New GM Shero sees fresh challenge in building Devils

by Mike G. Morreale

Ray Shero doesn't believe he's in familiar territory as general manager for the New Jersey Devils as he was almost a decade ago when hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the same role.

Still, it's hard to ignore the comparisons.

The Penguins had just completed a fourth straight season of having failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Shero was hired to replace Craig Patrick as GM in May 2006. Patrick, an iconic figure in Pittsburgh, had served as GM for 16 seasons.

"It's never a seamless transition; going into Pittsburgh there were people working for Craig for 16 years, so it takes a little time. The same can be said for those working for Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey," Shero said.

Shero made it work in Pittsburgh as he helped the team qualify for the postseason each of the next eight seasons, leading the franchise to the Stanley Cup for the third time in its history in 2009. The Penguins advanced past the second round of the playoffs once after winning the Cup, which led to Shero's firing in May 2014.

Now he gets a second chance with the Devils, a team that has failed to qualify for the playoffs three straight seasons. He replaced Lamoriello, who held the job for 28 years and three Stanley Cup championships, as GM on May 4.

Will Shero be able to duplicate for New Jersey what he was able to do for Pittsburgh in his early years?

"Every team has challenging decisions, so Jersey is different than Pittsburgh," Shero said. "The challenge for myself is knowing where we are and where we want to go, so that's exciting in terms of opportunity for people, our staff, and players. That's what you're trying to create over the course of the next one, two, three years. Hopefully we'll see the benefits from the decisions we make now and in the summer.

"The identity we laid out with the hiring of coach John Hynes is a starting point."

When Shero introduced Hynes as new Devils coach on June 2, he said he envisions them being fast, attacking and supportive.

"These three things lead to one, which is team," Shero said. "That's the identity of this hockey team the last 28 years under Lou Lamoriello. The three things I talked about are what we're going to be about as a team moving forward."

Shero hired Hynes to work in the Penguins organization with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League in 2009.

Shero, a former player agent and son of Hall of Fame coach Fred Shero, also knows the importance of long-term building and having a vision and definitive plan in place. One area that certainly could use special attention is on offense. The Devils ranked 28th in the League with a 2.15 goals-per-game average and 29th with a 24.5 shots-per-game average in 2014-15.

"Do the Devils need to score more goals? Yes, but am I going to talk about scoring more goals? No," Shero said. "You can talk about that, but you also need to do other things like come out of your defensive zone. If you can't get out of your zone, it'll be hard to score goals. We have to talk about the foundation, the philosophy and how we're going to go about playing and having success."

Shero is hoping his scouting team will be able to uncover some future help at the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. The first round of the draft is June 26 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports); rounds 2-7 will be held Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN-US, SN1, TVA Sports). The Devils currently have six picks over seven rounds, including three among the top 41 selections.

Devils director of amateur scouting David Conte believes the 2015 draft class might one day compare to the benchmark 2003 draft, the year the Devils selected Zach Parise with the No. 17 pick.

"It's an absolutely strong draft class and I don't see why it wouldn't one day compare with 2003," Conte said. "I think this year's class is deep all the way through and at different levels. There's a unique nature to the players, and by that I mean that once you get by the generational guys (Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel) this draft might be even better than most drafts."

By all accounts, the Devils will be adding a potential top-six forward or top-four defenseman with the No. 6 pick on June 26.

"We certainly have areas to improve on, but that's the byproduct of having been good for a long time," Conte said. "You don't have to be a genius to get players at the top; Tampa Bay drafted [Steven] Stamkos and [Victor] Hedman, and Chicago got [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews at the top too.

"At some point, when you lose players like Parise (to free agency) and [Ilya] Kovalchuk (to retirement), that leaves some voids to fill. But that's all history and all we can do is go with the resources that are at our disposal."

What the Devils do have is a solid goaltender in Cory Schneider and a young, effective defense led by veteran Andy Greene. Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson all played vital roles along the blue line and figure to be in the mix again in 2015-16. The organization is also high on defense prospects Steve Santini (2013 draft, No. 42), Seth Helgeson (2009, No. 114) and Raman Hrabarenka (free agent, 2013).

"We're looking for the best assets in the draft and that could be a forward or defenseman with the picks we have," Shero said. "Those on the outside would say we are in need of forwards, but I know Dave [Conte] and I share the same philosophy that having more assets in the draft is better for our future. How we use those picks will be determined."

Conte, who has served as director of scouting the past 22 years, probably summed up best New Jersey's situation with those projected forward prospects within the system. The top offensive prospects in the system are Reid Boucher (2011, No. 99), John Quenneville (2014, No. 30), Stefan Matteau (2012, No. 29) and Blake Pietila (2011, No. 129).

"Sometimes when you feel a player might be close, you're reluctant to give that opportunity and I think it was proven that some guys weren't really ready [to play regularly with the team], but their time is coming," Conte said. "I think we have found out that it's hard to have a future in someone else's past, so we have to work to create our own future."


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