NHL News

Top prospects Hughes, Kakko go 1-2 in NHL draft

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The New Jersey Devils selected Jack Hughes, an 18-year-old center from Orlando, Florida, with the first overall pick in the NHL draft on Friday night.

The pick was announced by Devils Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, who was taken at the 1990 draft in Vancouver.

Hughes is the eighth American taken first overall in the NHL draft, and the first since Auston Matthews was drafted at No. 1 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016.

Hughes joins his brother Quinn, a rookie defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks, in the NHL. The Hughes brothers join the Tkachuks (Matthew and Brady) as the only pair of brothers drafted in the top 10 of the draft, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.

Like Matthews, Hughes is a product of the USA Hockey National Development Program. He holds that program’s records for career points (154) and goals (228). He represented the U.S. four time international competition, most recently at the IIHF world championships.

At 5-foot-10, there have been questions about Hughes’ size and how his speedy, playmaking game will transfer to the NHL level. His game has drawn comparisons to that of another American player who went first overall, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I feel like when smaller players come into the league and they have that kind of offensive game, it seems to be easy to compare him to a guy like me. But I think he does a lot of things better than I do, to be honest with you,” Kane told ESPN at the Winter Classic. “I love the way he’s always moving. He’s always skating. Even if he’s not near the puck or near the action, he’s still got his speed. He’s coming into the zone with a lot of movement and speed to his game. Seems like an off the charts skater. Seems like he’s going to have a good career.”

Hughes played with Kane at the world championships, and was humbled by the praise.

“At first, your reaction is ‘you’re lying, man.’ He’s a guy that has Cups, Hart Trophies, Art Rosses. You name it, he’s got it. For him to be talking about me like that … it’s really nice,” Hughes said.

The Blackhawks were one of the last three teams with a shot at drafting Hughes, the most coveted player in this season’s draft; fans used the phrase “Lose For Hughes” to describe their teams’ attempts at tanking for better lottery odds.

Chicago, New Jersey and the New York Rangers were the final three teams in the lottery. The Devils had the third-best odds to win the lottery (11.5 percent), and won it for the second time in three seasons. They drafted Swiss center Nico Hischier in 2017 at No. 1 overall.

Devils general manager Ray Shero called Hughes’ selection “a special day for our franchise.”

The Rangers, who had the sixth-best chance (7.5 percent) at the first overall pick, moved up to No. 2 overall. Effectively, the Devils determined whom their archrivals would select — either Hughes or Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko, the two prized players in the draft.

The Rangers followed by selecting Kakko. He’s a 6-foot-2 winger, who helped Finland complete an international gold-medal sweep at the world championships, world juniors and Under-18 tournament. He had 22 goals the Finnish Elite League, the most by a draft-eligible player.

With the third pick, the Blackhawks took Canadian center Kirby Dach. He was followed by defenseman Bowen Byram, who went fourth to the Colorado Avalanche.

The Los Angeles Kings drafted center Alex Turcotte at No. 5.

The Detroit Red Wings used the sixth pick on defenseman Moritz Weider. Next up were the Buffalo Sabres, who selected

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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