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The New Jersey Devils Should Draft Jack Hughes

The 2019 NHL draft is finally here and the New Jersey Devils hold the first pick in the draft. In a very close race, here’s all the reasons why the Devils should draft Jack Hughes with the first overall selection.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs and Finals are over and the St. Louis Blues are 2019 Stanley Cup Champions. This means hockey season is officially over and now the 2019 NHL offseason is underway. And of course, that means one of the highlights of the hockey offseason is here at last.

That’s right, the 2019 NHL draft, being held this year in Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada, will begin Friday, June 21 with the first round, then resume Saturday, June 22 for rounds two through seven.

It’s a date that many New Jersey Devils fans have had circled on their calendar since the 2019 NHL draft lottery wrapped up back in early April. The hockey world learned that the New Jersey Devils will be picking first in the upcoming draft. It’s the second time in the last three years that the Devils won the draft lottery, the last time being just two years ago in 2017.

The Devils selected Nico Hischier first overall in that draft, adding one of their franchise cornerstones for years to come. Now in 2019, general manager Ray Shero and his staff will have a choice of two of the best prospects to come out of the draft in the last several years. Those two young men are Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.

For several years now, center Jack Hughes of the United States National Development Program has been the consensus number one pick. He’s set countless records during his time playing for Team USA. Furthermore, scouts have raved about his skating, speed, skill, passing, stick work, puck handling, and his overall dynamic ability. Many believed that Hughes was a close to a lock to go first overall as you could get.

However, winger Kaapo Kakko out of Finland has made a case to go first overall after an unbelievable campaign as of late. Unlike Hughes, who is more of a speedy playmaker, Kakko is a natural finisher and scorer. His size, strength, and shot gives him all the ability he needs to score goals at will. During his time in Finland, he’s helped them win three gold medals, one during the 2018 U18 Worlds, another during the 2019 World Juniors, and the latest at the 2019 IIHF World Championships.

This won’t be an easy decision for Ray Shero and the Devils. And for another entirely different reason, aside from choosing between the two. Their arch-rivals across the Hudson River, the New York Rangers, hold the second pick in the draft. Meaning in all likelihood, the Rangers will select whomever the Devils don’t. New Jersey’s decision on who to draft will also impact who will be playing for their arch rivals for potentially the next 15 plus years.

It’s safe to say that there are very few people more stressed in the world right now than Ray Shero. This decision will ultimately be one that will impact the New Jersey Devils for the next decade. Therefore, it is crucial that Shero and his team get this decision right. And despite Kakko’s recent surge, Jack Hughes is still the right pick for New Jersey for several reasons.

He Fits the Devils Perfectly

One of the things that is crucial in all sports is how a player fits your team. A player can be have all the talent in the world. However, if they don’t fit your culture or system, the success your team has with that player will be limited.

Thankfully, Jack Hughes could not be more of a perfect fit for the Devils if he tried. One of the things to love about Hughes is his personality; his swagger and confidence in himself. The young man has the demeanor needed to be the face of a franchise, to be a leader that leads his team onto the ice in the Stanley Cup Final. Furthermore, he’s gone on record on how he wants to be picked first overall by the New Jersey Devils. That’s the type of personality you need to have playing in a market that resides just outside New York City.

But beyond his demeanor, Hughes’s style of play perfectly fits what Ray Shero is building in New Jersey. Ever since Shero and head coach John Hynes took over the reigns from longtime general manager Lou Lamoriello, they’ve changed the identity of the Devils. New Jersey once played a style that was reliant on size and defense. While that style brought them three Stanley Cups from 1995 to 2003, it had since became outdated. Now under Shero and Hynes, the Devils are known for their speed and skill that perfectly fits the modern NHL. As we discussed earlier, Jack Hughes one of the most dynamic players to come out of the draft in quite some time. His skill-set would thrive in the Devils system immediately.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that Hughes has a couple of connections to the New Jersey Devils already. His father, Jim Hughes, had Ray Shero as his agent when he was an ice hockey player himself. Furthermore, John Hynes got to coach Jack Hughes when he was an assistant coach for Team USA during the 2019 IIHF World Championship. Last but not least, Hughes is close with Devils star left winger Taylor Hall, as the two skate together during the summer. You could not find someone better to be the face of the New Jersey Devils franchise than Jack Hughes.

He’s a Natural Center

When a race to go first overall in any sport is a close as Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko is, sometimes positional value can ultimately be the tiebreaker. This may be the case here, as Hughes plays arguably the most important position in hockey, center. It’s been proven that having depth down the middle is how you win Stanley Cups in the NHL. Having those guys that are the engine of each line and make wingers and defenseman around them better.

For an perfect example, look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. With that one-two punch down the middle, the Penguins have won three championships since 2009. And guess who was the general manager of that same franchise from 2006 to 2014? That’s right. Ray Shero. Seeing how well his vision has worked out in Pittsburgh, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Shero opt to do the same thing in New Jersey of a one-two center duo of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier.

Now one argument that has been made in favor of Kakko is that he has played center before. While this is true, he’s not a natural center. In other words, you’re drafting Kakko because of his dynamic scoring ability on the wing, not to play down the middle. Jack Hughes, on the other hand, is as natural of a center-man as you can find. His dynamic skating and passing ability is exactly what you need to be the anchor of a first line in the NHL and to make everyone around you better.

We also have to visit what the Devils can do with Hughes versus what they can do with Kakko. It’s incredibly fun to think of what a first line of Hall-Hischier-Kakko could be capable of. However, that one line would only be on the ice together approximately 25 or 33 percent of the time. On the other hand, with Jack Hughes, the Devils would have two lines anchored by him and Nico Hischier out there half the time. You need a combination of depth and star power to win championships in hockey.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning the difficulty of acquiring each position. While Kaapo Kakko has a chance to be a special winger and scorer, wingers and scorers aren’t typically as difficult to find or acquire as centers are. You rarely ever see centers hit free agency because teams understand the importance of the position. In all likelihood, it’s going to be much easier for Shero to draft Hughes and then find wingers to surround him with than it is to find center depth for Kakko.

His Resume Speaks for Itself

The third, final, and most important reason to draft Jack Hughes is simple. He’s the best prospect in the draft. He’s been the top-rated prospect for several years now. The 2019 NHL draft has always been known as the Jack Hughes draft. Kaapo Kakko’s recent surge doesn’t change that. Jack Hughes is arguably the best prospect to come out of the draft since Connor McDavid back in 2015. Jack Hughes has one of the strongest resumes of any draft prospect in recent memory.

What better place to start with all the records Jack Hughes has set? For american-born prospects, Jack Hughes practically wrote the record books. In the 2017-2018 season at the USNTDP, Hughes recorded 116 points, just one shy of Austin Matthews record. He came back in the 2018-2019 season and recorded 112 points, setting the all time United States National Team Development Program record with 228 points. Most of all, he had an unreal showing at the 2019 U18 World Tournament, scoring 20 points in seven games. That’s second most in a single U18 tournament, only one behind Nikita Kucherov in 2011. Furthermore, he set the record for most career points in the U18s with 32 in 14 games, breaking the record held by Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin.

Even looking beyond all the records, Jack Hughes also has plenty of hardware to go along with that as well. In 2018, he was named the 2018 IIHF World U18 Championships Tournament MVP. Also in 2018, he was awarded the United State Hockey Leagues’s Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year Award. In 2019, he received USA Hockey’s Bob Johnson award for “excellence in international ice hockey competition.”. Last but not least, he’s won four medals playing for the United States. Those would be gold in the 2017 U17s, silver in the 2018 U18s, silver in the 2019 World Junior Championships, and bronze in the 2019 U18s.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning who Jack Hughes is often compared to in the NHL. Many consider Chicago Blackhawks superstar and three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Kane to be Hughes’s pro comparison. And the comparison does make sense from many angles. Both are a bit undersized, with Kane being 5 foot 11 inches and 177 pounds and Hughes being 5 foot 10 inches and 170 pounds. However, they’re overall dynamic ability completely nullifies the size factor for both of them. For Hughes to be compared so often to one of the best players of this generation and the comparison actually be accurate speaks volumes about how good he could be.

Jack Hughes has gone on record saying that Patrick Kane is currently his favorite player in the NHL today. The two got to play together on Team USA during the 2019 IIHF World Championships. Now, Hughes has yet another key mentor in Kane. Most of all, Patrick Kane has had some very high prase for Jack Hughes after getting to be teammates.

The New Jersey Devils cannot afford to draft anyone other than Jack Hughes with the first pick in the 2019 NHL draft, even someone who has made a strong of a case as Kaapo Kakko has. Jack Hughes’s dynamic playmaking ability sets him apart from the rest of the pack. His speed and skating is second to none. His stickwork and puck handing is straight out of a video game. He’s a natural at the game’s most important position. His passing, hockey sense and iq give him the ability to make every player around him better. Above all, he has the exact type of domineer you need in a leader. Jack Hughes has everything you need to be the next face of the New Jersey Devils franchise.

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New York & New Jersey Sports Staff Writer, New Jersey Jackals Beat Writer
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