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Hughes sees self, Kakko being linked like Ovechkin, Crosby ahead of Draft

Forwards expected to be top two selections by Devils, Rangers, which 'should be pretty cool'

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

VANCOUVER -- Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, expected to be the first two picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, met off the ice for the first time Thursday.

But Hughes knows it won't be the last time they're viewed together if the New Jersey Devils select him with the No. 1 pick and Kakko goes No. 2 to the New York Rangers, or vice versa, during the first round at Rogers Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 will be Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN).

"We'll be linked together for a long time, Devils-Rangers, it should be pretty cool and a lot of fun," Hughes said of the longtime rivals. "You saw [Washington Capitals forward Alex] Ovechkin and [Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney] Crosby do it all these years. I am not saying we're going to be Ovechkin and Crosby, but it's going to be pretty cool to be linked like that."


[RELATED: Who should be picked No. 1? Hughes vs. Kakko | Complete 2019 NHL Draft coverage]


Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, and Crosby, the top selection in the 2005 NHL Draft, each entered the League in 2005-06.

Hughes, a center who is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, said he's ready to hear his name called so he can move on to the next stage of his career.

"I'm excited to finally find out the team I go to and start to be part of an organization, be something bigger than myself," he said. "Not just be Jack Hughes but be Jack Hughes on a certain team."

Hughes said he expects to play in the NHL next season, as does Kakko, a right wing who is No. 1 on Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters.

"I need more strength, I need to get to the gym, and then I'm ready," Kakko said.

Hughes began Thursday at Hillcrest Rink helping lead a clinic for local youth players. With him were some other top draft prospects: center Alex Turcotte, his teammate with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (No. 4, North American skaters); defenseman Bowen Byram of Vancouver of the Western Hockey League (No. 2); center Kirby Dach of Saskatoon of the WHL (No. 3); and center Dylan Cozens of Lethbridge of the WHL (No. 5). Also at the clinic were Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, Jack's older brother, and Canucks forward Jake Virtanen.

"It was pretty sweet," said Jack, who at 18 years old is 19 months younger than 19-year-old Quinn. "I can remember when I was those kids, I was 12 years old like some of those kids wheeling around. Put in the time, talk to them a little bit, hook them, slash them a little bit, just let them know I'm there. I think a lot of people did that for me when I was younger, now I'm just returning the favor."

He grew up in the Toronto area and skated with players from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, in part because his father, Jim, was an assistant with the Marlies and later director of player development for the Maple Leafs.

Dach didn't have such opportunities growing up in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, so he understood how important it was for the kids who participated Thursday.

"One of the things about the game of hockey is just how important it is to give back and be involved in the community and making sure everyone feels welcomed in the game," he said. "It's something I quite enjoy doing. ... It's quite cool to see the smiles you can put on people's faces. It's not that long ago I was that kid watching [junior-age players] grow up and play and want to be on the ice with them, even to have them talk to me was pretty cool. To give back was awesome."

It also allowed the players to take their minds off what's to come Friday. After all the games and all the interviews, most teams have made their decisions, and all the top prospects can do is wait.

"There's really nothing more I can do," Turcotte said. "I proved myself, did well in my interviews and proved what I had during the season. It's not up to me anymore." correspondent Kevin Woodley contributed to this report



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