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NHL Scouting Combine, Day One: Hughes, Kakko each ready for his close-up

Projected top two picks in 2019 Draft prepare for interviews with League suitors

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2019 NHL Scouting Combine is taking place this week at KeyBank Center and HarborCenter in Buffalo. The combine will allow NHL teams an opportunity to conduct interviews and provide physical and medical assessments of 104 top prospects eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft. NHL.com will bring you all the sights and sounds.

 

BUFFALO -- Jack Hughes, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is looking forward to the interviewing stage of the 2019 NHL Scouting Combine that begins for him Tuesday.

Hughes arrived here Monday night after representing the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia.

The 18-year-old center of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2019 draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.

Hughes (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) has 12 scheduled interviews this week, including the New Jersey Devils, who hold the No. 1 pick in 2019 NHL Draft. The New York Rangers have the No. 2 pick and the Chicago Blackhawks have the No. 3 selection.

"The Combine is something that comes and goes during your draft year so it's an important week meeting the teams," Hughes said. "Meeting the teams is a big thing to me. It should be a good week and it'll be exciting to see buddies I haven't seen this year who were playing in the Ontario Hockey League."

NHL teams have the opportunity for 1-on-1 interviews with the invited prospects at KeyBank Center, Monday through Friday. Medical examinations for each player will be Wednesday, and seven of the 11 fitness tests will take place at HarborCenter on Saturday.

Hughes had 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games and set NTDP records for assists (154) and points (228) in 110 games in his two seasons with the team. In seven games for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he had three assists and 15 shots on goal, averaging 13:52 of ice time.

The breakdown of combine invitations includes 77 of the top North American prospects and 27 top international prospects. There are 56 forwards, 38 defensemen and 10 goalies.

Here are four takeaways from Day One at the Combine Monday:

 

First-round feedback

Forward Kaapo Kakko, a projected top-two pick, is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. The 18-year-old wanted to take part in the gold medal-winning IIHF World Championship celebration ceremony at Kaisaniemi Park in Helsinki on Monday.

Kakko, who played two seasons for TPS in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, had seven points (six goals, one assist) and 40 shots on goal averaging 15:38 in ice time in 10 games for Finland, which won 3-1 against Canada in the World Championship final on Sunday. Approximately 40,000 fans met the team at Kaisaniemi Park, in addition to Finland president Sauli Niinistö.

Kakko (6-2, 194), No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final list of International skaters, scored 22 goals in 45 games, a record for a first-time draft-eligible player in Liiga, one more than the 21 Aleksander Barkov had for Tappara in 53 games in 2012-13.

"I'm excited for the Combine," Kakko said. "I've heard a little bit about the NHL Combine, but don't know exactly what will happen; time will tell. I haven't prepared in any way, because I've played so much hockey during the past weeks, so that's where my focus has been."

 

Scouts honor

Devils assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said Hughes and Kakko each look to be NHL ready. That's good news for the rebuilding Devils and Rangers, who hold the No. 2 selection in the 2019 Draft.

"As far as Hughes and Kakko are concerned, we all know the obvious differences in the players ... one is already matured physically (Kakko) and one hasn't yet (Hughes)," Fitzgerald said. "That said, I think both kids most definitely have the skills, skating and hockey instincts to play next year in the NHL."

 

Top underrated prospect

Ethan Phillips, No. 78 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 50 regular-season games as a rookie for Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League this season. The 5-9, 148-pound center, who has 17 interviews this week, hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of two former billet brothers, Devils center Nico Hischier and Detroit Red Wings forward Filip Zadina.

"The thing I took most from them when they lived with us in Halifax was just how they prepared themselves for everything," Phillips said. "They always made time for me and there's a reason they are successful."

Phillips looks forward to continuing his career at Boston University in September. His Canadian Hockey League rights are held by Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where Hischer and Zadina each played junior hockey while living with the Phillips family.

 

Question of the day

Forward Cole Caufield of USA Hockey's NTDP U-18 team has 27 interviews this week after setting the single-season record with 72 goals in 64 games this season. As a teammate of Hughes, Caufield was asked by one team the type of questions they could pepper him with.

"I couldn't really come with anything right away, but I did tell them that when (Hughes) first sees you, he always asks, 'How we doin?' and it's pretty funny," Caufield said. "I love that kid. We all know how talented he is on the ice, but he's so cool off the ice, too. I was in awe with the amount of people he met and spoke with while playing for the U.S. at the World Championship."

 

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