The New Jersey Devils finally made their decision on who they would draft first overall Friday night at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena.
The Devils selected 18-year-old Jack Hughes out of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. According to NHL Central Scouting, Hughes is the “best skater and most dynamic playmaker.” He is also the best center in the draft. Hockey Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur announced the pick on stage.
Kaapo Kakko, who wowed fans at the World Championship, went second overall to the New York Rangers. Both players are coming to the Metropolitan Division.
“I’m so fired up. I’m so pumped up to be a Devil now,” Hughes said. “Great people, great organization. I’m just so happy.”
Hughes is the eighth American player selected first overall all time.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) June 22, 2019
The center is coming off a stellar season for the USA U-18 squad where he scored 34 goals and 112 points in 50 games. Hughes also captained the Americans at the U18 World Junior Championship, scoring nine goals and adding 11 assists in seven games.
“We didn’t know. We had no idea,” Ellen Hughes, Jack’s mom, said on if the family had any advanced heads up on the pick. “Nobody gave us any inclination. We hoped. That was his dream. As you can tell, it’s an emotional moment.”
“He can be a star,” Devils general manager Ray Shero said. “No different than some of these kids in this draft. But for us, we felt with Jack — we’ve watched Jack a long time – no different than a lot of teams. We got really fortunate tonight to win the lottery. It’s a special day for our franchise.”
Jack Hughes’ mother played hockey at the University of New Hampshire and is in the school’s Hall of Fame.
“I think [getting Jack to this point] was a team effort. I think it was Jim and I,” Ellen said. “I know when the kids were little, [hockey] was just an activity for us. A lot of people do Mommy and me activities. And for me, I played the game. So for me, it was just a natural organic thing to do to learn how to skate. It was a long journey and we couldn’t be prouder. What a blessing and we can’t wait to see where this journey takes us.”
The Hughes brothers are good at the hockey pic.twitter.com/7sG090UTvG
— RMNB (@russianmachine) June 22, 2019
The Devils immediately get an impact player.
The Devils get the best center in the draft and immediately set themselves up through the middle for next decade with Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, and Hughes as their go-to players at the position. Hughes likely will earn a roster spot during training camp and play a top-six role, average 15-20 minutes of ice time per game, and benefit from the instruction of Devils coach John Hynes, who is a former NTDP coach.
“We’re extremely excited to have him,” Shero said.
Meanwhile, the Rangers get arguably the best goalscorer and “right now” player in Kaapo Kakko.
Kakko dominated the recent World Championship tallying seven points in Finland’s gold-medal win. He has also won a gold medal at the U-20 and U-18 World Junior Championships.
The 18-year-old winger scored 22 goals in 45 Liiga games, a record for a first-time draft-eligible player in Finland’s top professional league. It was one more than Aleksander Barkov had for Tappara in 53 games in 2012-13.
Kakko should fill a top-six role for the Rangers this season. He is most dangerous on the wing, though he can play center. He’s dangerous around the net and isn’t afraid to get into the tough areas to generate scoring opportunities for his team. The thought of Kakko alongside Chris Kreider and center Mika Zibanejad at some point in the future is a scary proposition for opposing clubs.
The Metropolitan Division just got crazy good.
With the second overall pick#NYR select
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) June 22, 2019
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