VANCOUVER, BC - The mystery has been solved.
Jack Hughes, a forward with the USNTDP who smashed that program's scoring records this season, was selected first overall by the Devils on Friday night in Vancouver. Hughes' selection ended almost 10 weeks of speculation who the Devils would take after winning the Draft Lottery in Toronto back in April.
"There's a lot of great players on the Devils," said Hughes immediately after his selection. "It's a team that's right there and I feel blessed now to be part of it."
Video: DRAFT | Jack Hughes 1-on-1
Asked if he ever doubted he would go first, Hughes was respectful of the other players in his class, especially of Kaapo Kakko, who went second to the New York Rangers, but also showed clear confidence that he expected to be taken by the Devils.
"Kaapo Kakko is a great player and there was a lot of great players available in this draft but I was pretty confident that I could go No. 1," said Hughes.
Hughes possess a dazzling array of offensive skills. Except for his size (5'10", 167 pounds), if a prototype of a first line center were put together by hockey executives, it would be Hughes. He brilliantly distributes the puck to teammates , is tenacious on the puck and has an adept ability to shoot and change his delivery to deceive defenders and goaltenders.
Video: DRAFT | Jack Hughes Meets the Media as a Devil
"He's near impossible to defend one-on-one," said Kyle Woodlief, chief scout of Red Line Report, in his final edition before this year's Draft. "(He's) so elusive he rarely has to engage physically to make plays. He has off-the-charts hockey sense and is an imaginative genius."
Both Hughes and his brother Quinn, a Vancouver Canucks defenseman, have cited their hard work and dedication in making sacrifices to overcome the perception they both lack size. Their father, Jack, was a collegiate player who briefly played pro hockey before getting into coaching (and later developing his sons, which includes a younger brother, Luke).
Both older Hughes brothers will now spend a large portion of their summer in Toronto, where they lived for a few years while Jack Hughes was an assistant coach with the Toronto Marlies. The group they will train with will include Taylor Hall.
"That's pretty cliché," said Hughes when it was pointed out to him that the hard work begins now, "I've been waiting for this moment all my life but now this is a new chapter for me."
Hughes now makes it three first-overall selections in the Devils organization. Hall was taken first in 2010 by the Edmonton Oilers and Nico Hischier was the first name called two years ago.
The similarities go beyond the Triple H spelling of their surnames. All three of Hall, Hischier and Hughes emerged No. 1 after being viewed in competition with one other highly touted forward in the same class. Hall nosed ahead of Taylor Seguin almost a decade ago, Hischier pushed past Nolan Patrick and Hughes over Kaapo Kakko.
Video: DRAFT | Congrats to Jack Hughes!
Like Hall, Hughes helped his country to a World Junior silver medal during their respective draft years. Hischier did not win a medal playing in the World Junior but he was the consensus best player in the 2017 tournament, almost single-handily willing Switzerland to an upset of the U.S., who later beat Team Canada in a shootout to win gold.
The level of certainty between Nos. 1 and 2 varied in each one of those. Beyond that, Hall (Seguin), Hischier (Patrick) and Hughes (Kakko) will now all be linked to one another throughout their NHL careers.
Hughes acknowledged as much again on Friday night. He seemed relieved and relaxed, even taking time to glance over the heads of media at a television screen when German defender Moritz Seider was taken sixth by the Detroit Red Wings.
"I'm just tying to see the pick," he shouted back, half in jest.
For once, the spotlight was on someone else and Hughes seemed just as happy as when it shone on him.