FEATURE: Devils earn another first overall pick to make it three
Plenty of parallels exist when looking at potential first overalls Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko and current first overall Devils Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall
/ Special to newjerseydevils.com
One Canadian, one Swiss and now, an American or a Finn, will be the nationality of the third Devil to be selected No. 1 overall in the NHL Draft.
"I said yesterday that we need more talent," said Devils GM Ray Shero shortly after winning the draft lottery in Toronto, "Tonight, I know we are getting more talent."
The consensus No. 1 overall prospect is Jack Hughes, the Orlando, Fla., native who has dazzled scouts for more than two years playing in the U.S. National Development program. Since the World Junior that took place in Vancouver, site of this year's Draft, Finn Kaapo Kakko has solidified his spot as the consensus No. 2 prospect and could challenge Hughes to go No. 1 overall.
The stunning development at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation headquarters on Tuesday means the Devils selection on June 21 in Vancouver will join Nico Hischier (2017) and Taylor Hall (2011), who were both taken first as well.
Shero acknowledged the help that Hall and Hischier could provide their new teammate, whomever it turns out to be.
"One of the first people to reach out to Nico was Taylor Hall," said Shero, "And now that Nico's been through it, he'll know to do (the same)." Hughes and Kakko grew up an ocean apart and their backgrounds and journey to arrive where they are now are as varied as Hall and Hischier's.
Back in 2009-10, the "Taylor vs Tyler" battle to see who would go No. 1 was one of the primary storylines playing out below the NHL. Hall was playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, and Tyler Seguin for the Plymouth Whalers not far away, across the Canada-U.S. border. They met numerous times head-to-head that season and even opposed each other in CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game that was played at Hall's home rink in Windsor.
By the time the season wound down, Hall had solidified himself as the top pick. The Edmonton Oilers confirmed that when his name was called first. Incredibly, Hall has played on the team - not counting his own selection - that has won the No. 1 overall pick five times in his nine seasons in the NHL.
"I saw what he tweeted out," said Shero, in reference to Hall's tweet stating as much after learning the Devils had again won the lottery, "It was funny."
Nine years ago, like Hughes now, Hall was already a household name in the hockey world. He had already won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires. As a late-birth, Hall returned to Windsor for a third year with the Spitfires and led the club to a second consecutive Memorial Cup crown. In between those two national championships, Hall helped Canada win a silver medal on home ice at the World Juniors in Saskatoon; Team Canada lost in overtime to the U.S., which included the Devils' Kyle Palmieri on its roster, to snap Canada's string of five consecutive gold medals at the event.
Both Hughes and Kakko showed flashes in Vancouver; Hughes battled injury but was back in time for the medal round. Kakko had a relatively quiet tournament until it mattered most.
In many ways, the World Juniors was Hischier's first entrance onto a big stage. After first playing in the tournament as a 16-year-old for his native Switzerland, Hischier was arguably the tournament's top player in 2017. He almost single-handily defeated the U.S. in the quarter-finals before returning to Halifax Mooseheads where his stock continued to rise, culminating in his No. 1 selection by the Devils two years ago.
"That was Nico's coming out party," said Shero, of the Swiss forward's dominance at the World Juniors in Montreal in 2017 that helped convince the Devils take him first overall when they won the lottery five months later.