This is the moment New Jersey Devils’ fans have been waiting for since the Draft Lottery results were announced in April. In just about 24 hours, the Devils will be making the first-overall selection at the 2019 Entry Draft. They’ll have the opportunity to choose between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the top two prospects in this class.
Both players are high-end talents and will change the look of the franchise for the best. But it’s Hughes who stands out from the rest and should be the Devils’ choice tomorrow night.
Hughes Is in a Class of His Own
The 2019 Entry Draft has been labeled as “The Hughes Draft” for some time, and with good reason. He’s the USNTDP’s all-time leading scorer, with 228 points over two seasons with the program. He also broke Alex Ovechkin’s scoring record at the IIHF World U-18 tournament, with 32 points between two appearances at the annual event.
He had a dominant showing at this past April’s U-18 tournament, finishing with 20 points in seven games, which was the second highest total in its history. He was the clear-cut best talent there and proved why he was a step above everyone in his age group.
At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, he follows a trend of smaller, highly skilled players that are carving up the NHL. And there’s no reason to believe he won’t follow suit. He has elite vision and playmaking ability, something the Devils lack besides Taylor Hall. He’s the best skater in this class by a good margin, and in a league that’s trending towards speed, that has tremendous value.
He uses that speed to his advantage, too. He almost always carries the puck into the offensive zone with possession and rarely plays dump and chase. Controlled zone entries and exits are an important part of success in today’s NHL. And that should help him fit right in with the Devils wanting to play a more up-tempo style of hockey.
If there’s a knock on Hughes, it’s his size. He’ll have to learn to protect himself and avoid the big hits in the pros. But there’s also plenty of room for him to grow and develop, which is something to consider when drafting him. The Devils aren’t selecting him for only 2019-20, but rather for him to be the face of their franchise for almost a decade. So having room to mature physically over time also works in his favor.
What Others Are Saying About Hughes
“Talking about Jack Hughes, he’s a massive difference maker and he’s an electrifying player,” TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button told Chris Wescott of NHL.com. “I have a saying about Jack. He becomes immediately dangerous when his blades hit the ice. He’s got that capability to see things quickly and be able to take advantage of it.”
“Hughes had a dominant season, looking like he was toying with opponents at times at the junior level and setting many records at the USNTDP. I think he’s going to be an elite NHL player and a player the team that drafts him (New Jersey) can build around,” said Corey Pronman of The Athletic (from ‘Pronman: Top 31 prospects of the past five years, 2019 edition’ – The Athletic – 6/11/19)
“He’s going to be a star,” an NHL scout said to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. “He’s a dynamic skater. He’s an elite playmaker. He’s an elite scorer. He has elite hockey sense and creativity. His feet and hands are quick, and his mind processes the game even quicker.”
Related: Jack Hughes: The Next Patrick Kane
“He’s a unique player. He has an unbelievable motor, great speed, but a stride not too dissimilar from Jack Eichel in that he generates speed with a lot of motion and a good core. His ability to be elusive in traffic is similar to what Connor McDavid does; he’s not afraid to challenge that opening that others may not be able to get through because he sees beyond with the opportunities there.” – NHL Central Scouting analysis via Mike Morreale of NHL.com.
Why Hughes Should Be the Devils’ Choice
Hughes is the best player in this draft class. His playmaking, creativity, and skill are unmatched, and he has the tools to be a franchise player. The Devils haven’t had a prospect like him since Zach Parise in 2003, and it’s probably safe to say he’s a step above Parise. He’d instantly be their No. 1 prospect and one of the five best in the NHL, if not the best.
Another reason to choose Hughes is that he’s a center. Some may question whether he can play down the middle in the NHL due to his size, but his skill set is best suited for the position. Being set at center is a good way to set up your franchise for long-term success, so adding Hughes with Nico Hischier is a nice core to have as part of your rebuild.
None of this is to say Kakko isn’t a great player. He is, and the Devils will have to deal with him as part of their rivalry with the New York Rangers for a long time. But Hughes is the right option for general manager Ray Shero and the organization. He’s the best prospect to come around since Auston Matthews in 2016, and it’d be a mistake for them to pass on a talent who can help accelerate their rebuild the way he can. That should be more than enough to make him the first-overall pick.
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017