VANCOUVER -The American Dream came to fruition eight times Friday at the 2019 NHL Draft.
Topped by the No. 1 pick, center Jack Hughes, a record seven skaters and one goalie from the U.S. National Development Team (USNDT) were selected at Rogers Arena during the first round of the draft. Hughes, who was selected by the New Jersey Devils, is the eighth American-born player to be chosen first overall in a league that has been historically dominated by Canadian players.
The NHL now features 44 percent Canadians, 26 percent Americans and 30 percent Europeans. Of the European-born NHLers, roughly 20 percent are from Sweden and Finland, 8.6 percent are from Russia and Czech Republic and a smattering from Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia, Norway and others.
Hughes was chosen first overall for his visionary play-making abilities, in addition to what scouts feel is his sky-high potential for improvement over the next three years. Players first become draft eligible in the year that they turn 18, making most draft picks 18-years-old and causing NHL scouts and general managers to rely on projecting a draftee's upside.
The No. 2 pick, Kaapo Kakko, played professionally in Finland against veteran players before he starred on his country's national team that won the 2019 IIHF World Championships. Scouts have a pretty good idea of how Kakko handles himself against men, and most speculate that Hughes will be even better when given an opportunity in the NHL. The New York Rangers were thrilled with the ability to add Kakko to their roster.
Another strong pull for Hughes is was his two-year captaincy of the USNDT, which is comprised of the Top 40 American teens who play on the Under-18 and Under-17 squads that compete with world national teams, plus juniors and NCAA teams here in North America. For any newbies, juniors (prevalent in Canada but also growing as the USHL here in the States) are equivalent to major college sports such as football, basketball and women's soccer.
That captaincy factor ran deep Friday night. As Hughes enjoyed the American Dream of dreams, hugging family members, shaking hands with Devils officials and talking on camera, he kept sneaking peeks at the draft board monitors throughout Rogers Arena, home to Seattle's surefire rival-to-be Vancouver Canucks. The first-overall pick was clearly interested in where his now ex-teammates would start their own NHL careers.
During his media obligations, Hughes crossed paths with USNDT teammate Alex Turcotte, who was selected No. 5 overall by the Los Angeles Kings. Hughes wrapped Turcotte in a hug and chirped "you'll be surfing by tomorrow!" Turcotte was all smiles.
The Chicago Blackhawks picked Canadian center Kirby Dach, who at 6-4 and 200 pounds is five inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Turcotte. In a league trending to faster, smaller players, the pick was the first surprise choice, with top defenseman prospect Bowen Byram aligned with the Blackhawks in many mock drafts.
This is where things get particularly intriguing for NHL Seattle fans: both the No. 3 Dach and No. 1 Hughes have younger brothers born in 2003, which is the NHL eligibility birth year for players hoping to be selected in the 2021 draft and the year that NHL Seattle will officially enter the league.
Dach's brother Colton is a rising star who will play for the same Saskatoon Blades junior team this coming season for which his brother starred in the Western Hockey League. Colton Dach is already 6-2., 175 pounds and, like his brother, has proved his mettle in his team's playoffs as a leading scorer and two-way forward.
The Hughes family story should give Seattle fans even more to look forward to ahead of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Jack's older brother Quinn was taken seventh overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 Draft. After finishing a season with the University of Michigan, coached by NHL great Red Berenson, Quinn appeared in five games for the Canucks, notching three assists and impressing teammates with his skating and puck-moving abilities as a defenseman.
Quinn collected another three assists and finished with a +7 plus/minus rating (goals on ice minus goals against when on ice) before competing on Team USA in this spring's World Championships.
Luke Hughes is the third Hughes brother and, you guessed it, turns 18 in 2021. Luke scored an eye-popping 81 points in 71 games for his team this season, including 22 goals and 61 assists, a similar ratio to his playmaking brother Jack. Luke is committed to play for the USNDT Under-17 squad this coming season. He has also signed a letter of intent for a future season with Berenson at Michigan.
For good measure, the Hughes' mother, Ellen Weinberg-Hughes, played for the U.S. women's hockey team, earning a silver medal and all-star team status in the 1992 World Championships. She taught all three Hughes boys how to skate and stickhandle.