JERSEY CITY, N.J. — There was a moment Saturday when the tall and the short of the 2013 NHL Draft — both literally and figuratively — was on display in a hotel lobby, with the diminutive Max Domi spotted walking alongside mammoth defenceman Samuel Morin.
Upstairs conference rooms were buzzing as four NHL teams — the Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames — are all sharing space in the same hotel, all conducting last-minute player interviews, all sharing chatter and gossip in the hours before today’s draft.
"Right now the happiest people are the phone companies, there’s no question about it," said Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff with a grin. "There’s lots of GMs with cellphones attached to their ear.
"It’s unpredictable. Each draft seems to take on its own life and certainly there’s lots of new factors that come into play on this one. At some point in time I imagine some trades will start to happen. Will they happen today, tomorrow on the floor or after the draft... people have mentioned compliance buyouts... there’s lots of different nuances and complexities."
The Jets, who hold the 13th pick in the first round, three more in the second and 10 overall, conducted interviews with 88 players at the draft combine earlier this month and planned to chat again with 10-12 players this weekend. Sources say the last three interviews Jets conducted Saturday included Domi, Morin and Curtis Lazar of the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
Other prospects spotted Saturday at the Jets’ hotel included Ottawa 67s centre Sean Monahan, Valeri Nichushkin of the KHL’s Chelyaninsk, both of whom are now expected to be plucked before Winnipeg picks at 13... unless the Jets make a deal to move up in the first round.
"We’re trying," Cheveldayoff admitted. "It’s different for different teams to try and move up. Sitting at 13, depending on where you want to go, sometimes it’s a roster player (being asked for) and you have to decide whether you have that ability to move a roster player to move into that situation, and sometimes it’s a pick. A lot of times the teams you are talking to don’t want to commit until they know who’s there for them. If it’s a player (available) that they like, then all your work is for naught.
"Similarly, teams below us are making the calls and the requisite overtures and you set your prices from those things. You’re here to re-stock and stock your teams with young talent and future building blocks for your organization."
And it’s here where the Jets must weigh filling the current holes on their roster vs. stockpiling young talent. Cheveldayoff has key restricted free agents to re-sign, such as Blake Wheeler and Zach Bogosian, and nine unrestricted free agents — a good half-dozen of which are likely to leave — that leave some significant question marks on the depth chart.
There has been talk about compliance buyouts and the usual assortment of trade rumours — the speculation swirling even more so this year because of the drop in the salary cap that has handcuffed teams pushed up against it.
"There’s lots of conversation and it goes in both directions, players that we’ve asked about, players (of their own) that have been asked about us," said Cheveldayoff. "Obviously at the draft here, draft picks are en vogue part of the conversation. You make certain calls to different teams depending on their situations and where they are in the draft, about maybe potentially moving up and seeing what that price is, what their appetite is and when they are going to do it or if they are going to do it."
It would be shocking if the Jets used their first-round pick to grab a goaltender and there are some young defensive prospects in the system, including last year’s first-rounder, Jacob Trouba. The Jets have some serious needs, both with the big club and in their system, along the right side, and so the consensus from draft watchers is they will likely go with a forward with their first pick.
"I do have several No. 1 priorities," said Cheveldayoff. "We’re a team that’s made it well-known that we’d like to find some things on the right side, on the right wing, but we’re looking to enhance any position.
"There is some unpredictability. I can only go back to last year and think about the excitement that was beginning to brew at our table when it looked like Jacob Trouba was going to potentially be there for us. When that came to fruition, you almost wanted to run up to the podium and make sure it is your turn.
"To say that (a player) will ever be there when you’re in your meetings and then you catch yourself and say, ‘Well, you never know...’ especially when you are getting into that realm.
"Scouting is an art, not a science, and like many artists, they all have different styles. Every scouting director is going to look at different things. That’s what makes for the most intriguing part of the draft: the unpredictability."