Skip to Main Content
NHL Insider

Hughes vs. Kakko debated by

Top two picks of 2019 Draft face off for first time; panel handicaps performances during start of season @NHLdotcom

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the top two picks of the 2019 NHL Draft, will face each other for the first time in the NHL when the New Jersey Devils play the New York Rangers at Prudential Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN). 

Hughes, an 18-year-old center, is without a point and has 12 shots on goal for the struggling Devils (0-4-2). Kakko, an 18-year-old forward, has scored one goal on four shots with the Rangers, who are 2-1-0 in three games and have played one in 11 days.

The NHL sample size may be small, but we still asked six staff writers for their early impressions of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle and which player will be the more dominant.

Here are their thoughts:


Brian Compton, deputy managing editor
Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers

Hughes may be the better player when it's all said and done, but Kakko is my choice to have a bigger impact this season. He already has NHL size (6-foot-3, 199 pounds) and his first goal, against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 12, was a glimpse of what's to come. If Kakko gets a chance to skate on the same line as playmaking forward Artemi Panarin during the season, he won't have a shortage of quality chances to score.


Nick Cotsonika, columnist
Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

Hughes has zero points and is minus-4 through six games. Not good in the short term, but I'm not worried about him in the medium or long term. The Devils have zero wins, so they have been struggling as a team. I'm going with Hughes over Kakko for the same reasons New Jersey went with Hughes over Kakko in the draft. Hughes is skilled and smart, and he has swagger. As the season goes on, he will have plenty of opportunities to play in offensive situations, he'll grow more comfortable and the Devils will do better as a team. That first point could break the dam and lead to a run for him.


Tom Gulitti, staff writer
Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

No doubt Hughes is frustrated with the start to the season. No one expected him to be looking for his first point and the Devils for a win after six games. But I'm betting Hughes will start to produce and make a significant impact the more comfortable he gets playing in the NHL. Although he appears to be pressing at times, he'll be able to relax and let his skills take over after he gets in the groove offensively. That's not to say Kakko won't make an impact. But as a center, Hughes will have more of an opportunity than Kakko, who is a wing, to have an influence on more parts of the game while he learns and becomes a complete player. 


Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor
Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers

It remains a close fantasy debate, but Kakko is ranked higher than Hughes on our top 100 forward list, which weighs fantasy value for the rest of the season. We've seen a smaller sample size from Kakko and the Rangers, who have played three games during the first 15 days of the season. There's also a chance Kakko eventually lands and sticks on the top line and/or first power play with elite forwards Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. Factor in fantasy position scarcity, body frame and production (seven points; six goals, one assist in 10 games) for first-place Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Championship and Kakko has the more intriguing ceiling this season with clear 30-goal potential. 


Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor
Kappo Kakko, New York Rangers 

Kakko was set up for success this season before putting on a Rangers jersey for the first time because of his NHL-ready size and experience playing with and against men for TPS in Finland's top professional league last season. Nothing that's happened in Kakko's first three games has changed my opinion of his impact this season. His first goal showcased his puck handling, creativity and nose for the net, each of which will improve as he gets more experience and more confidence. Hughes projects to be a franchise center, but not at age 18. Kakko has more talent around him, less responsibilities playing on the wing and a better chance to have a bigger impact this season.


Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

Hughes is an 18-year-old center adjusting to the greatest league in the world. He's appeared a lot more comfortable and confident lately in generating shots and creating offense. In Hughes' past three games, he's taken nine shots on goal and the Devils have controlled 55.56 percent of all shots attempted with him on the ice, an improvement of the three shots and 36.73 percent of shots attempted during the first three games of the season. As a 16-year-old playing for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, Hughes had five points (one goal, four assists) in his first five games before getting 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in his next four. He's processing the ins and outs of the NHL right now and it won't be long before he's rewarded for the hard work.

View More

The NHL has updated its Privacy Policy effective January 16, 2020. We encourage you to review it carefully.

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.