Hartnett: Devils And Rangers Get Pre-Draft Look At Jack Hughes And Kaapo Kakko

Sean Hartnett
May 14, 2019 - 2:23 pm
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Monday’s IIHF World Championship preliminary round meeting between the United States and Finland offered Rangers and Devils fans a glimpse of expected No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.

Which player will be first off the board once the 2019 NHL Draft gets underway in Vancouver? It depends on who you ask. Hughes is considered by most experts as a lock to be selected by the Devils at first overall, though several draft pundits have begun to advocate the notion of Kakko supplanting Hughes for the top spot.

Monday’s contest wasn’t the Hughes-Kakko showdown that everyone expected. Neither player recorded a point. The United States eventually won 3-2 through Dylan Larkin’s overtime goal. Still, Kakko and Hughes are expected to become central figures in the Hudson River Rivalry.

Devils’ general manager Ray Shero will be under pressure to make the right call. If he allows the more promising of the two talents to fall the rival Blueshirts, the Devils will be in trouble for the next decade-plus.

At the moment, Kakko has seized the momentum after tallying five goals through three tournament games. The 18-year-old Finn is tied with Sweden’s Patric Hornqvist as the top tournament goal scorer. He’s been a star in Slovakia, impressing onlookers with his excellent hands, skill at controlling the puck in tight areas and his ability to score goals in a variety of ways.

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Hughes has struggled to find ice time given the experienced roster at Jeff Blashill’s disposal. The American center only skated for 7:03 total ice time against Finland. So, if it’s stock up for Kakko – that doesn’t necessarily mean Hughes’ stock is falling. We all know the book on Hughes; The rapid-skating 17-year-old possesses Grade-A vision and is a very hard opponent to contain due to his elusiveness.

In reality, a 16-day tournament can only do so much to shape the opinions of general managers and scouting staffs that have spent years tracking Hughes and Kakko. This tournament is a short sample. There’s a lot more that goes into drafting a player than the most recent set of reports and data.

A Hughes-Hischier one-two punch at center would suit the Devils just fine, though Kakko owns a more NHL-ready body at 6-foot-2, 192 pounds. Hughes will need to add some bulk to his 5-foot-10, 166-pound frame.

Rangers fans have definitely fallen hard for Kakko. They love his strength on the puck, big-game reputation and consistency. Shero will have his choice of the two best prospects, but Rangers’ general manager Jeff Gorton won’t complain if Kakko ends up calling The Garden home.

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