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Hughes can't take his eyes off Draft after being picked first by Devils

Center enjoys watching friends, USNTDP teammates get selected

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

VANCOUVER -- Jack Hughes said he wasn't nervous until the last moment. New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was on stage at the 2019 NHL Draft, about to announce the No. 1 pick.

No, wait.

He wasn't announcing the No. 1 pick. He was announcing who was announcing the No. 1 pick: Martin Brodeur, the Hockey Hall of Fame goalie and three-time Stanley Cup champion for the Devils who is now their executive vice president of business development.

Finally, Hughes heard Brodeur say these words: "From the U.S. program ..."

 

[RELATED: Complete 2019 NHL Draft coverage | Hughes goes No. 1 to Devils]

 

The center from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program became the eighth player born in the United States to be picked first in the draft, and the next 90 minutes Friday would be a blur.

Hughes stood and smiled. He hugged his little brother, Luke; his big brother, Quinn; his grandma Penny Weinberg; his mom, Ellen; and his dad, Jim.

"He might have been cool on the outside, but even him, I'm sure … You never know what's going on on the inside," Ellen said in the stands moments afterward. "There's so many amazing players. This is just the start of the journey, and we couldn't be prouder of him."

Video: Hughes' "fired up" to be a Devil, training with Hall

Ellen said it was like deja vu. A year ago, the family attended the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas. They sat in about the same spot -- a few rows up, to the left of the stage -- when the Vancouver Canucks selected Quinn at No. 7.

"It just feels like we were just here," Ellen said. "Right, Quinn? Would you agree with that?"

Quinn agreed.

"That's tremendous and super excited for him," Quinn said.

Quinn left the University of Michigan and played five games for the Canucks near the end of this season. Jack's goal is to play in the NHL next season. To think, they could play each other here at Rogers Arena in a matter of months, and maybe their brother will join them in the NHL one day.

"It's a surreal feeling," Jack said. "Hopefully, Lukie's next in the pipeline."

Jack had one more "family member" to hug, though. He raced up the aisle and found Alex Turcotte a few rows away. Not only did Turcotte play with Hughes for the NDTP in Plymouth, Michigan, he lived with the Hughes family for two years in nearby Canton.

"That's my brother," Hughes said.

Hughes raced back down the aisle, climbed on stage, shook hands with the Devils brass and posed for pictures. Then it was time for what they call the "car wash," the series of interviews, autographs and photo shoots that awaits each draft pick each year.

Two things stood out: Hughes' calm, confident, jovial personality, and his interest in the players picked after him. It wasn't like he stopped caring once he was selected. It wasn't like he only admired himself in the mirror and said, "This is a good-looking jersey, man," though he did do that. He wanted to know what the other teams were doing. He wanted to see where his buddies went.

After an interview to the right of the stage, Hughes stopped and looked up. The New York Rangers drafted forward Kaapo Kakko at No. 2. The Chicago Blackhawks drafted center Kirby Dach at No. 3. Now the Colorado Avalanche were up. Would they take Turcotte at No. 4?

No. They took defenseman Bowen Byram. Hughes went to do another interview. When he was finished, it was time to move on, but he stopped and looked up again. The Los Angeles Kings were up. Would they take Turcotte at No. 5?

Yes.

No, wait.

Yes!

"I'm so fired up that he went to L.A.," Hughes said. "I think that's an unreal spot for him. L.A. livin', that's not terrible."

From there, Hughes went from station to station, up and down elevators and stairs, walking through back hallways with an entourage: Officials leading him, cameramen and reporters trailing him to record his every move.

Hughes kept watch of the draft on television after television, sometimes waiting to go to the next station until he saw a pick. At one point, Kakko came into the same room to sign autographs, and Hughes never took his eyes off the TV. At another, Hughes ducked into a room for photos, then popped his head out to make sure he didn't miss anything.

During a brief break, Hughes watched the Philadelphia Flyers draft defenseman Cameron York at No. 14.

"Yes," he said. "Let's go, Yorkie!"

That was three NTDP players in a row and six in the top 14. The Anaheim Ducks drafted center Trevor Zegras at No. 9. The Minnesota Wild drafted forward Matthew Boldy at No. 12. The Florida Panthers drafted goalie Spencer Knight at No. 13. Now this. (And the Montreal Canadiens would draft forward Cole Caufield next. The NDTP would produce seven of the top 15 picks. Unbelievable.)

Hughes found Turcotte at one of the stations.

"You're going to be surfing by tomorrow!" Hughes told him. "L.A., baby!"

They were two 18-year-olds who lived under the same roof, played for the same team, and gone through the same process, and now here they were, top-five picks, wearing the jersey of their NHL team.

"It's a dream come true," Turcotte said. "This is something we looked forward to for a long time, and we're best friends. I'm just so happy for him, and I know he is happy for me too. Just to share this experience with him and my other teammates and our families, it's unbelievable. I just can't believe it."

Once he was clean of the car wash, Hughes went to see his family in a suite. Another hug for Quinn. Another hug for Mom. Another hug for Grandma, or as they call her, Gi Gi. The plan was to head to a restaurant with about 60 friends and family members.

"It's my draft, but it's their draft too," Hughes said. "They've gotten me to this point, so I'm going to celebrate with them and enjoy."

 

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