- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2016

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - The NHL draft is nothing new for Paul Castron.

The New Jersey Devils director of scouting was hired by general manager Ray Shero after spending the previous 16 seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, including the last nine as director of amateur scouting.

The draft on Friday will be his first with the Devils. Coming off a fourth straight year missing the playoffs, New Jersey will have nine picks, including the 11th overall.

Toronto is expected to take center Auston Matthews with the first pick, and Winnipeg probably will take right wing Patrick Laine of Finland with the next pick.

Castron, who replaced longtime scouting director David Conte, said the next 10 picks will be interesting since little separates the players.

“Thirty teams might have and probably do have those players in 30 different orders,” Castron said. “I think there is a good balance in that next group of 10, forwards and defensemen.”

It’s easy to say the Devils need a scorer. It’s been their weakness, even when they were playing well. They have been a solid defensive team that loses because it can’t score enough goals.

Castron said teams tend to follow their grading lists. It’s a list that is based on game reports, quarterly meetings among the scouts and long discussions.

“It’s the best player available I guess, especially in the first round,” Castron said. “We’re picking 11. If we have a guy at seven and a guy at eight, we are not taking eight if seven is still there.”

Castron said production isn’t always the top criteria for rating players either coming out of junior hockey or coming over from Europe. Many of the junior players are competing against guys who are sometimes 2 years older, while some of the young Europeans are playing in professional leagues. Bottom line is their statistics can suffer.

“Our job is really projecting where they are going to be in four to five years,” Castron said. “Obviously the top-end guy can make a quicker adjustment and have a chance to play quicker in the NHL. We see that all the time with the top-end picks.”

Castron said the draft is nothing like the NFL or NBA. Teams in those leagues are drafting players who have matured after two to four years in college.

“These kids are basically babies,” Castron said. “Stats are great if you have them, but they are not the be all and end all.”

Castron said every year is a learning experience in scouting. Sometimes scouts can make a mistake on a player and other times he has learned that he should listen more to what certain scouts say.

It happens with young players.

“What do you look for?” Castron said. “The No. 1 thing is obviously is competiveness. It goes a long way in any sport, especially in our sport. The kids who compete, the ones who put the effort in off and on the ice, they improve. They are not always the most talented, but a lot of times that is the difference.”

The Devils selected forward Pavel Zacha from the Czech Republic with the sixth pick overall last season. He spent last season playing junior hockey and was signed late, picking up two assists in one game. He could make the jump to the NHL next season.

New Jersey picked up two extra picks in this year’s draft in trades that sent defenseman Marek Zidlicky to Detroit two years ago and forward Lee Stempniak to Boston earlier this year.

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