To mark the beginning of the 2019-20 regular season, NHL.com is running its first installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Calder Trophy, the annual award given to the player selected as the top rookie in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
Jack Hughes looks forward to becoming the first player from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program to go directly from the NHL Draft to playing in the League.
"My goal has always been to get to the NHL as fast as I could, so I wanted to be the No. 1 pick and playing in the NHL the following year no matter where I was, but I think really highly of the NTDP," said Hughes, who was selected by the New Jersey Devils with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. "I think it's an unbelievable place to play for an American-born player. I kind of thought it was really important to break a barrier so that the next group of kids going to the [NTDP] know that it's a possibility that you can go straight from the program in the NHL.
"For me, that was pretty important, so it's a lot of fun to be here with the Devils and kind of open that window up for American players."
The 18-year-old center hasn't disappointed for New Jersey in training camp and had four points (three goals, one assist) in four preseason games. According to a panel of 20 writers for NHL.com, Hughes is the favorite to win Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, receiving 10 first-place votes and 87 points in the poll.
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar was second with 78 points (six first-place votes), followed by New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (75 points, four first-place votes), Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes (30 points), and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Alexandre Texier (eight points).
Video: CGY@COL, Gm3: Makar scores in NHL debut
"The Calder isn't even on my mind," Hughes said. "I didn't even play my first NHL game yet. I'm just looking to help my team win and kind of play the style coach John Hynes wants us to play, fit in with the team, but also do my thing and be able to produce. Whatever I can do to help the team win, that's where my mindset is. It's not on any awards or anything."
Hughes said timing was everything to be in the position he now stands.
"There's been a lot of great American players from the NTDP, Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) ... a lot of guys who have gone first overall (in the NHL Draft), but they're all late birthdays," Hughes said. "So really, with how the League is now, with a lot of young players, it fits to my game. I think that it was kind of perfect timing for me."
The NTDP's first season was 1997-98.
Devils defenseman Will Butcher played two seasons with the NTDP (2011-13) and then four years at the University of Denver before playing his first NHL game in 2017-18.
"It makes me feel old and I know I'm not old," the 24-year-old defenseman said. "I came out of the NTDP and had to play four years of college hockey before I got a crack to try to make an NHL team. It just kind of puts it in perspective of how good [Jack] is."
Hughes will have plenty of mentors to lean on during the season, including left wing Taylor Hall, who was selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft and has a locker stall next to his for Devils home games.
Video: NYR@NJD: Hughes pots early breakaway goal
"I think if I look back to my rookie season as an 18-year-old and all the hype and all the talk, I would just tell Jack to enjoy it as much as you can," Hall said. "Expect to come out of some games with your tail between your legs a little bit and know the season is not going to go perfect, there's going to be some ups and downs. You're never as good as you think, you're never as bad either.
"From there, I think it's just growing as a player, as a leader, as a person, and knowing that eventually when you're 20, 21, 22 years old, you're going to be one of the faces of the franchise and how are you going to be when you're that?"
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Jack Hughes, Devils, 87 points (10 first-place votes); Cale Makar, Avalanche, 78 points (six first-place votes); Kaapo Kakko, Rangers, 75 points (four first-place votes); Quinn Hughes, Canucks, 30 points; Alexandre Texier, Blue Jackets, 8 points; Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings, 4 points; Cody Glass, Vegas Golden Knights, 4 points; Sam Steel, Anaheim Ducks, 3 points; Erik Brannstrom, Ottawa Senators, 3 points; Eeli Tolvanen, Nashville Predators, 3 points; Max Comtois, Ducks, 2 points; Adam Fox, Rangers, 1 point; Barrett Hayton, Arizona Coyotes, 1 point; Drake Batherson, Senators, 1 point