Jack Hughes, expected to be the first player picked at the 2019 NHL Draft, celebrated his 18th birthday Tuesday by changing his on-ice look.
Hughes practiced with his United States teammates at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia with a visor on his helmet. Now that he's 18, he's allowed to practice and play without a full cage.
"It's nice," Hughes told TSN. "The fresh air hit my face, I feel like. Nice to put the visor on. It will be an adjustment but it's obviously super nice."
He'll play his first game in the visor against Great Britain on Wednesday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN). The U.S. (1-1-0-1) is tied for fourth in Group A with five points, two behind first-place Finland.
Hughes is the youngest player ever for the U.S. at the World Championship; Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley was two months past his 18th birthday when he played at the 1982 World Championship.
"I don't know if it's possible, but he looks even younger out there today," U.S. captain Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks) said. "He is a young kid, he's 17 coming into this tournament. It's pretty impressive, youngest American to ever play in this tournament, pretty cool number, pretty cool milestone. Yeah, we had a little fun with it."
Hughes has five shots on goal and is averaging 12:30 of ice time in three games as the third-line center.
NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater for the 2019 draft, Hughes had 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team. He set a single-season NTDP record for most assists in a season, passing the 70 set by Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes) in 2015-16. He also set NTDP career records for assists (154) and points (228) during his two seasons with the program.
At the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April, Hughes led the tournament with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists), one shy of the single-tournament record set by Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning) in 2011. Hughes' 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in 14 games at the 2018 and 2019 World U-18s set the career tournament record, one point ahead of the 31 Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) had in 2002 and 2003.
"I was looking for him and I didn't see a cage," U.S. defenseman Christian Wolanin (Ottawa Senators) said. "I wished him a happy birthday. Obviously, a huge deal for him, 18 years old, and to be here with all the hype and all the noise surrounding him and his draft stock and stuff like that, he is pretty mature, and he doesn't let it get to him. It's pretty unique to be playing with an 18-year-old, but he deserves it for sure."
The New Jersey Devils, who won the NHL Draft Lottery, have the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft, June 21-22 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
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