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NHL Draft

Devils excited about picking either Hughes, Kakko No. 1 in Draft

Having first selection 'huge for the franchise,' says goalie Blackwood

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

KOSICE, Slovakia -- Damon Severson is ready to welcome either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko to the New Jersey Devils.

Severson, though, isn't sure which of the two the Devils will select with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

"It's exciting," said the Devils defenseman, who is playing for Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Championship. "I think obviously the 1-2 is set in stone from what I've understood. There's an American (Hughes) and there's a Finn (Kakko). There's a young kid who hasn't really quite grown into his body yet, and there's a man, it seems like, that's playing against men.

"It's going to be a battle, obviously, to the finish. We're excited. We're happy with whomever we get. As long as we get a guy who can make plays. We have some guys who can put the puck in the net, and if we get a little bit more skill up front we can be that much more dangerous. That'll be huge."

Hughes, No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2019 Draft, and Kakko, No. 1 in Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters, are the consensus top two picks in the draft, which will be at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.

"Obviously [Kakko] has had a really good tournament so far and has scored a lot of goals and has looked very solid and hasn't looked out of place at all and has dominated at times from what I've seen," Severson said. "[Hughes] is just a small, skilled, crafty, shifty forward who can make plays."

Kakko, a right wing with TPS, scored 22 goals in 45 games, a record for a first-time draft-eligible player in Liiga, one more than the 21 Aleksander Barkov had for Tappara in 53 games in 2012-13. He has seven points (six goals, one assist) in six games with Finland so far in the World Championship.

Hughes, a center with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team, set NTDP records for assists (154) and points (228) in 110 games in his two seasons with the club. He has one assist in six World Championship games.

"Getting No. 1 is huge for the franchise," said Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, who also is playing for Canada. "It's exciting. I know the pick is not up to me. It's not my choice. It's just a new player coming into camp, but it's pretty cool to get the first overall pick. It should bolster up the front end a little bit even more so.

"I know it's one of the two. Hopefully whoever we choose is the right choice."

New Jersey will select first after winning the NHL Draft Lottery on April 10. 

"Definitely watched it," Severson said. "My best buddy back home in Saskatchewan, he follows us pretty closely. He FaceTimed me right away. He was like, 'Oh man, what do you think? Are you going to get the first overall?' I didn't think so. I thought we were going to stay wherever we were at. The next thing you know Chicago goes No. 3. Then we came up and the Rangers were No. 2.

"I couldn't believe we won it again. With (Nico) Hischier we lucked out there. He's a hell of a player and a fun guy to be around. We somehow lucked out again. The Taylor Hall first overall thing is a real thing. We've got to hold onto him for a while."

The Devils won the lottery in 2017 and selected Hischier, who has 99 points (37 goals, 62 assists) in 151 games in his first two seasons in the NHL.

"It's big for us," said Hischier, who is representing Switzerland in the World Championship. "It's big for the organization.

"I'm really excited about who they're going to pick."

Whoever is added will be expected to make an immediate impact for New Jersey. The Devils (31-41-10) finished 29th in the NHL and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.

Severson is hoping the first overall pick to help improve on that.

"That's kind of what we're looking towards," he said. "We've just got to add a little bit more talent up front.

"We've got some good players. It's just a matter of adding a couple more pieces to have that secondary scoring punch and to add some more skill. That's what we're looking towards here, especially with that first overall (pick) and hopefully we can find a few more."

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