“Scouting is simple” says the Devils David Conte

By Simon Richard

A total of 134 NHL scouts were present at the 2007 World Junior Championships in Leksand and Mora, Sweden.

Three of them were from the New Jersey Devils organization – David Conte (Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Scouting), Claude Carrier (Assistant Director of Scouting) and Dan Labraaten (European scout).

Hockey’s Future caught up with Conte in the Ejendals Arena in Leksand.

“We have a goalie [Martin Brodeur] that doesn’t like to lose, so we have to find good players to keep him happy,” said Conte, smiling.

“This is a great great hockey experience,” said Conte talking about the WJC. “I have been doing it for a lot of years and I’m enjoying these games like the fans do, like you do.

“We don’t have a lot of meetings here, we are primarily here because it is a very important tournament in the sense that the best chunk of junior players are here. This is the best hockey at this time of the year we can find.”

According to Conte, the Devils representatives don’t attend the WJC just to watch the 2007 eligibles or those already drafted by the organization.

“We are here to see all the players," he pointed out. "Whether they are drafted or nor drafted, it really doesn’t matter. We need to know all the players, especially with the new CBA.

“Players will become free at some point in time, some players won’t be signed and will be put back in the draft, some will be traded because of the salary cap, some will develop later like [Brian] Rafalski and [John] Madden, anything happens, we have to be ready, we have to know all the players,” he said.

“You have to think a little more with the new CBA. You have now two years to sign the Euros otherwise you can’t put them in the bank and save them. They are young, so there is some sort of lottery and gamble,” he observed.

“Scouting is a simple job, you need to know all the players, whether they are drafted or not drafted, underage or overage it does not matter. You need to know the players, who are the players,” added Conte.

“In the Devils organization, we are looking for players that will contribute to the organization. We don’t care if you are Russian, Czech, Canadian, French Canadian, American. If you can play, you can play," said Conte. "If you are older, if you are younger, if you are smaller, if you are bigger, it doesn’t matter. You can play, you can play,” he repeated. 

Since 1992, the Devils have never had the opportunity to select before the 10th position at the NHL Entry Draft. Only one other NHL team, the Detroit Red Wings, lacked the same chance.

Since 1992, the average rank the Devils had in the first round of the annual draft was No. 21. Nevertheless, the team made sounded choices that help them win.

“Clearly, scouting is a lot easier if you draft in the No. 1, 2, 3 positions, but you have to be a bad team to do that. This is not the price we are willing to pay right now,” said Conte.

The Devils may have the best scouting and developing organization since they entered the NHL. Let’s examine some facts.

A great scouting organization

In May 1982, the Colorado Rockies franchise moved to New Jersey. The team then got its Devils’ nickname, a term that takes roots in a very old New Jersey folklore — from a contest conducted by a newspaper.

The New Jersey Devils have won three Stanley Cups between 1995 and 2003 and are still seen as a serious challenger every season.

This success is by no way a question of chance. It is basically explained by the organization’s excellent work at the NHL annual Entry Draft.

Over the 25 years the Devils have participated in the NHL Entry Draft, the team rarely had a poor drafting year. More important, as opposed to most of the NHL teams, the Devils never suffered a few years in a row of a poor drafting.

So, when comes the time to identify the best NHL organization in term of drafting and developing prospects over the last 25 years, the Devils must be considered as the probably best of all.

Past data show a lot of success

An analysis of the 4,621 prospects drafted between 1979 and 1997 supports that affirmation. It shows that the Devils lead or are at the top in many aspects of drafting.

During that period, 28 percent of the 185 Devils drafted players became NHLers (200 games played or more for the forwards and 125 or more for the goalies) while the NHL average is only 22 percent.  Overall, 52 Devils prospects made it to the NHL. Only three teams had a better record – Buffalo (60), Colorado/Québec (58) and Montréal (55).

The capacity of drafting prospects who will become NHL superstars or star (impact) players is the most important criteria when evaluating a team’s drafting performance. Between 1979 and 1997, no NHL team has a better record than the Devils in recruiting superstars or star players. The Devils drafted 17 such players, including Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Kirk Muller, Sean Burke, Brendan Shanahan and Patrik Elias. (For the record, the St. Louis Blues have the poorest record during that period with a mere three superstars or star players coming out of the draft – Doug Gilmour, Rod Brind’Amour and Cliff Ronning.)

The Devils were particularly effective in the first round — 47 percent of their selections became star players while the league’s average is only 30 percent for the period.

The Devils had a great success in the key position of a NHL team – goaltending. Overall, seven of their goalie picks became NHLers. Only the Colorado/Québec organization surpasses the Devils with 10 NHLers but none of these players are even close to the quality of Martin Brodeur and Sean Burke.

Among the best to convert late-rounders and undrafted into NHLers

The Devils also have a great success in converting late draftees and undrafted prospects into NHLers.  At the beginning of November 2006, a total of 711 players had played at least one game in the NHL so far this season. Among them, 177 were either undrafted or selected in the eighth round or later.

Nine of these somewhat “unwanted” prospects were either drafted by the Devils of signed as undrafted by that team. Only the Boston Bruins and the Blues, with 11 apiece, have a greater number of such players. But no team has a total of three quality players like the Devils’ “unwanted” prospects such as the 2000 Selke Trophy winner John Madden, the All-Star team members Steve Sullivan and Brian Rafalski.

Still a great future ahead

The Devils have a few excellent young players in their roster, including the MVP of the 2004 WJC as well as the MVP of the 2007 NHL YoungStars game Zach Parise (2003) and Travis Zajac (2004) to name a couple.

They have also many great prospects in their organization. With five prospects present at the 2007 WJC, the Devils were among the leaders in terms of the number of representatives.

Of the seven Devils selections made at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, four traveled to Leksand and Mora -Swedes Niklas Bergfors (23rd) and Alexander Sundstrom (218th), Americans Jeff Frazee (38th) and Sean Zimmerman (170th).

Alexander Vazyunov (58th), a Devils 2006 selection, was also in Sweden, playing for Russia.

A great scouting staff

A team can’t have such a success in drafting and developing prospects without a great staff.

Devils CEO and President Lou Lamoriello is known as one of the best general managers in the NHL.  Conte also earns a lot of respect across the league. And so does Claude Carrier.

Overall, the team’s scouting staff is composed of 21 members, including Conte and Carrier. Four of them scout professional players.

“Scouting is a simple job, if you can play, you can play,” says Conte.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.