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NHL Draft

Hughes goes No. 1 to Devils, Kakko taken No. 2 by Rangers at NHL Draft

New Jersey chooses center with top pick; New York follows by selecting forward

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

VANCOUVER -- Jack Hughes can't wait to begin the next phase of his career after being chosen with the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils at Rogers Arena on Friday.

"I've been working my whole life up to this moment, and this is just a new chapter for me," the 18-year-old center said.

Hughes, who played for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, was the consensus choice to be the top pick since the start of the season, although right wing Kaapo Kakko made a late surge with a strong second half with TPS in Liiga in Finland.

 

[RELATED: 2019 NHL Draft first-round results, analysis | Complete NHL Draft coverage]

 

Kakko was chosen No. 2 by the New York Rangers, and center Kirby Dach of Saskatoon in the Western Hockey League was selected No. 3 by the Chicago Blackhawks.

"My goal is to play in the NHL, so I'm going to try and have a good summer at development camp and then get ready to go to main camp," Hughes said. "Hopefully [Devils fans] were cheering for me. I hope we have a lot of great years to come. I know they're really passionate, so I'm so excited to be a part of the organization."

Video: Rangers draft F Kaapo Kakko No. 2

The Rangers picked Kakko with the highest selection they've had since the NHL expanded to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season. 

"It was my dream to be No. 1, but of course second is also good," Kakko said. "I'm happy."

Hughes, Kakko and Dach were three of 20 forwards selected in the first round, including 11 centers, five right wings, four left wings. There were 10 defensemen and one goalie selected.

"There are so many emotions right now," Hughes said. "I hugged my brothers, my grandma, my parents ... it's such a surreal feeling. I'm just really fired up right now because this is everything you work for, and I'm blessed and thankful for people who have gotten me where I am today."

Video: Devils draft F Jack Hughes No. 1

New Jersey had the top pick after winning the NHL Draft Lottery on April 9. Many expect Hughes to be a top-six forward for the Devils next season, with a good chance he could begin the season as their No. 2 center behind Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

"He's a dynamic player with great hockey sense, good competitiveness and he's a player that makes other players around him better," Devils coach John Hynes said of Hughes.

Devils general manager Ray Shero said he made up his mind to draft Hughes midway through this week.

"What really excites me about Jack is his hockey IQ, his skating, his agility ... just his total instincts as a hockey player with incredibly quick hands," Shero said. "He's a focused kid and he knows what he needs to do, and I think at the IIHF World Championship it was really fantastic for him to play against those NHL players and practice with them, and this is something where we picked Jack Hughes for the short and long term and we're going to help him every step of the way looking for other good players."

Hughes was the first of eight players from the NTDP U-18 team to be selected in the first round; the former record of three was done seven times. 

There were 11 United States-born and 11 Canada-born players selected, followed by four Sweden-born, three Finland-born and one player each from Germany and Russia.

NTDP goalie Spencer Knight, who was picked No. 13 by the Florida Panthers, became the first goalie chosen in the top 20 since Andrei Vasilevskiy was No. 19 by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 NHL Draft.

Video: Panthers draft G Spencer Knight No. 13

The only trade of the first round occurred when the Philadelphia Flyers dealt the No. 11 pick to the Arizona Coyotes for the No. 14 pick and the No. 45 pick. The Coyotes used No. 11 to select defenseman Victor Soderstrom of Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League. The Flyers chose NTDP defenseman Cameron York at No. 14.

The biggest surprise of the first round occurred at No. 6, when the Detroit Red Wings selected defenseman Moritz Seider of Mannheim in Germany. Seider was projected by many as a late first-round pick.

"I would say somewhere between 15 and 20," Seider said when asked where he expected to go in the draft. "It's insane. I can't explain it."

The pick was the first under Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman, who replaced Ken Holland on April 19. Yzerman was the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2010 to 2018.

"We think he has excellent hockey sense, obviously a big kid, 6-foot-3, real good skater," Yzerman said. "In our opinion he was one of the top defensemen in the draft."

Hughes will travel to New Jersey on Sunday and spend a few days there before returning home to Plymouth, Michigan. The Devils open development camp July 8.

He is the second United States-born player selected with the No. 1 pick in the past four NHL Drafts (2016, Auston Matthews by the Toronto Maple Leafs) and eighth in NHL history.

Video: Recapping Day 1 of the 2019 NHL Draft

The past 12 No. 1 picks have played in the NHL the season after being selected. Matthews won the 2017 Calder Trophy after scoring 69 points (40 goals, 29 assists) in 82 games for the Maple Leafs, becoming the first U.S.-born player to be voted rookie of the year since defenseman Tyler Myers in 2010 with the Buffalo Sabres.

Hughes led the NTDP with 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games this season and holds NTDP records for assists (154) and points (228) in 110 games over two seasons. He is the fifth NTDP player selected No. 1 (Matthews; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, 2007; Erik Johnson, St. Louis Blues, 2006; Rick DiPietro, New York Islanders, 2000).

He led the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) for the United States, which finished third. He set a tournament record with 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in 14 games over two tournaments (2018, 2019), passing Alex Ovechkin, who had 31 points (23 goals, eight assists) in 14 games for Russia at the 2002 and 2003 tournaments.

Hughes, who turned 18 on May 14, became the youngest American to play for his country at the IIHF World Championship. He was a top-nine forward on the 2019 team of NHL players that included Kane, who was captain, and Hughes' brother, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes.

"The one thing that separates Jack and what's going to make Jack a special player is his confidence," said Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, who coached the United States in Slovakia. "He's got a real belief in himself. It's not a fake bravado, it's not cockiness, but it's a belief. I think that exhibited both in the way he handled himself around the locker room and being around some of the superstars of the NHL."

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