Jack Hughes, expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, said he's excited to learn from some of the best United States-born players at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, which starts in Slovakia on Friday and runs through May 26.
"For me, it's all about having a great experience because it's not often you get to play on a team with all these American stars," Hughes said. "I mean Ryan Suter, [Patrick] Kane, Dylan Larkin, Johnny Gaudreau ... all high-end hockey players. Just to be around them day after day, learn things from every guy, talk to them, be around the pros, will help me a lot as I prepare for next season and jump to the NHL.
"The World Championship isn't about the NHL Draft for me; it's more about becoming a pro and learning the systems."
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The 17-year-old center from USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 Team will become the youngest U.S. player ever at the World Championship. Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley, who played at the 1982 World Championship two months after his 18th birthday, had been the youngest.
"It's special knowing I'll be the youngest player," Hughes said. "USA Hockey has treated me really well and I'm super-grateful that they gave me this opportunity. I'm glad I'm here."
Among his teammates will be his brother, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes. They will be roommates during the tournament.
"How often do you get to room and play hockey with your brother on a big stage like this? So that's exciting," Jack Hughes said. "For me, I just didn't want my season to be over yet. I still felt like I had a lot of hockey left in me, so it's just another opportunity to have fun and try to win a gold medal for Team USA."
Hughes, No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft, led the NTDP U-18 team with 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games, and set NTDP records for assists (154) and points (228) in his two seasons with the program.
Last month, Hughes helped the U.S. win the bronze medal at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Sweden. He had a tournament-high 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists), one shy of the single-tournament record of 21 set by Nikita Kucherov of Russia in 2011. Hughes' 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) between the 2018 and 2019 tournaments set a career record at the tournament, one more than Alex Ovechkin had with Russia in 2002 and 2003.
Hughes had a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win against Canada in the bronze-medal game at U-18s on April 28. He said he considered his options after returning home from the tournament, and after a few days to rest opted to join the U.S. at the World Championship.
"Once the U-18s were over, I figured out how I was feeling and where my head was at," Hughes said. "I was excited to have a chance to play more hockey and playing with a group like this is really special. Something I'll cherish for a very long time."
The New Jersey Devils won the NHL Draft Lottery and have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. Devils coach John Hynes is an assistant coach for the U.S. Jeff Blashill of the Detroit Red Wings is the coach.
"I just met coach Hynes (on Monday) and talked to him for a little bit," Hughes said. "I'll get to know him better over the next couple of weeks, but he seems like a really nice guy."
The U.S. will open preliminary-round play in Group A at the World Championship against Slovakia at Steel Arena in Kosice on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NHLN). Canada, Finland, Germany, Denmark, France and Great Britain are also in Group A. Group B, which will play preliminary-round games at Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava, consists of Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Norway, Latvia, Austria and Italy. Sweden has won the tournament the past two years.
All U.S. preliminary-round and playoff games will be televised on NHL Network. That includes the game against Finland on May 13, when Hughes could play against Finland forward Kaapo Kakko, the No. 1 skater on Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters and the player expected to be chosen No. 2 in the draft.
Hughes could become the eighth U.S.-born player chosen No. 1 in the NHL Draft, joining forwards Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2016), Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks, 2007), Mike Modano (Minnesota North Stars, 1988) and Brian Lawton (North Stars, 1983); defensemen Erik Johnson (St. Louis Blues, 2006) and Bryan Berard (Ottawa Senators, 1995); and goalie Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders, 2000).
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