KOSICE, Slovakia -- Jack Hughes is confident that the experience he gained from playing for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship will help him play in the NHL next season.
Hughes, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking for the 2019 NHL Draft, is expected to be the No. 1 pick. He got a jump-start in learning the professional life from his tournament teammates.
"It's been unreal," Hughes said prior to the U.S. losing 4-3 to Russia in the quarterfinals at Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Thursday. "I'm just learning about what it's like to be a pro every day, just hanging out with these guys in the rink and around town. It's been an invaluable experience.
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"I think that was the biggest thing coming here, just what I could experience and be a part of. It's not many days where you get asked as a 17-year-old … to play for an NHL all-star team. I knew I could learn a lot of things. I didn't want to turn down [USA Hockey]. I'm really grateful to be here. That was the biggest thing for me."
Hughes, a center with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team, had two assists against Russia and ended the tournament with three assists and an average of 13:52 of ice time in seven games.
Although he hasn't piled up the points, Hughes impressed his U.S. teammates and future NHL foes.
"I think he does some things better than me," said forward and U.S. captain Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), who has been seated next to Hughes in the U.S. locker room. "He's a really young kid. As time goes on he's only going to get better and better. His potential, obviously, is through the roof. Talking to him and watching him play, he wants to be the best. He has that 'it' factor.
"It's going to be fun to watch his career unfold."
Hughes (5-foot-10, 170 pounds), who turned 18 on May 14, is the youngest player ever for the U.S. at the tournament.
"He's a really smart player, obviously," U.S. forward Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames) said. "You can see why people are talking so highly of him. He's a great kid, great teammate. I love playing with him and being around him in the locker room. On the ice it's fun to watch him in practice. He's played well for us."
Hughes led the NTDP with 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) and a 2.24 points-per-game average in 50 games this season. He also set NTDP career records for assists (154) and points (228) in 110 games in two seasons.
Prior to playing at the World Championship, he helped the U.S. win the bronze medal at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April, with a tournament-high 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists), one shy of Nikita Kucherov's single-tournament record of 21 points in 2011. Hughes also helped the U.S. win a silver medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in January.
But Hughes said his experience at the World Championship was an eye-opener.
"Obviously on-ice is No. 1 all the time," he said. "You want to do well. But it's so big off the ice being around these guys, meeting some of these guys, so the next few years when I play against them I will know them and if I ever need something I can reach out to a guy like [Kane] or [James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers]. Both are awesome. I'm learning from both places.
"I think it's good for me playing against men here. … I'll know what I need to work on. It'll be an easier adjustment for me."
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