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Rangers set to land either Hughes, Kakko with No. 2 pick in 2019 Draft

New York readies for 'difference maker' after Devils make first selection

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

The New York Rangers won't be fretting about the decision of who to select with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Not when the New Jersey Devils pretty much will be making their choice for them.

Center Jack Hughes and right wing Kaapo Kakko are the projected top two players in the draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
The first round is Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN).

The Devils, who have the No. 1 pick, are expected to choose between these two, leaving the Rangers sitting in the ideal position to take the other.

 

[RELATED: Complete 2019 NHL Draft coverage]

 

"We're in a pretty good spot," Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. "Whatever happens, we know we're going to get a pretty good player.

"We embrace the chance to get a franchise player. These opportunities to get a player like this, it is very difficult to do. Our fans know it, and they've been looking forward to it."

The Rangers moved up from No. 6 to No. 2 in the NHL Draft Lottery on April 9, setting up the chance to select either Hughes or Kakko.

"For us, we felt like we won the Lottery," Gorton said. "We have a chance to draft a difference maker here. It's been a long time since we've had an opportunity like that here and it's pumped adrenaline into our franchise and our fan base."

Video: Who to pick at No. 1 in the 2019 NHL Draft

The Rangers' situation is similar to that three years ago of the Winnipeg Jets, who held the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Center Auston Matthews and wing Patrik Laine were the top two projected picks that year. When the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Matthews, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said it was easy to pinpoint who Winnipeg would follow with.

Hughes (5-foot-10, 171 pounds), led USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team with 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games, and set the NTDP record for assists (154) and points (228) in two seasons (110 games) with the program. He is projected to be the No. 1 pick.

Kakko (6-2, 194), a right wing with TPS in Liiga, Finland's top pro league, had 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists) in 45 games despite being the youngest player on a team that averaged 25.43 years in age. The 18-year-old is No. 1 in Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters.

"It's exciting," Gorton said. "This franchise has never picked this high before, and we're going to try to take advantage of it."

The Rangers had a second first-round pick (No. 20) but traded it along with defenseman Neal Pionk to the Jets for defenseman Jacob Trouba on Monday. Trouba, who was awarded a one-year, $5.5 million contract in arbitration for this season, has 179 points (42 goals, 137 assists) in 408 NHL games.

Video: Hughes' confidence, skillset gives lasting impression

The Rangers have two picks in the second round, No. 49 and No. 58. Among notable names selected in those second-round slots in the past: Shea Weber (2002, No. 49, Nashville Predators) and Nikita Kucherov (2011, No. 58, Tampa Bay Lightning).

New York had a third second-rounder (No. 37) but traded it along with a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Adam Fox on April 30. On May 2, New York signed the 21-year-old to an entry-level contract.

Fox had 48 points (nine goals, 39 assists), a plus-23 rating and 14 penalty minutes in 33 games at Harvard University this season. He was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA hockey and was a First-Team All-American.

Flush with a restocked group of prospects, the Rangers believe they were in a position of strength to use the No. 20 and No. 37 picks to bolster their defense at the NHL level with the two trades.

Even with that, they still have plenty of draft capital at their disposal.

The Rangers have three of the top 58 picks and eight picks in all. Their draft haul will be headed by either Hughes or Kakko.

"It's a pretty exciting time for the New York Rangers and their fans," Gorton said recently. "They've been patient with us, and hopefully they'll be rewarded for it."

 

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