The Devils made sure there was no suspense to who they were choosing as the No. 1 draft pick in the 2019 NHL Draft Friday night. They played it straight rather than being cute with it. They drafted center Jack Hughes as the No. 1 overall pick, which has been a fait accompli the minute they won the 2019 NHL draft lottery in April.
By drafting Hughes, the Devils made the Rangers’ decision of who to draft as their No. 2 pick by selecting Finnish forward Kappo Kakko, who was the next best player in the draft depending on which hockey wonks a hockey fan talks to.
Hughes and Kakko were considered the two best players in the draft, and either one could have been No. 1. Both will be linked to each other as long as they play in the NHL. Similar to Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, respective No. 1 picks of the 2004 and 2005 NHL Draft that started their NHL career in 2005. Similar to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, the top two draft picks in 2016.
Comparisons between these two young stars will come in earnest. They will play in the same New York market, and their teams will play each other four times a year. Productions, wins, playoff appearances and championships determine how those two are measured in what should be a prospective career for both of them.
Look for both to play this season in the NHL. They are matured enough to play at a high level after developing themselves in developmental camps of their country during their high school years.
Rangers president of hockey operations John Davidson can say all he wants about there’s no pressure on Kakko, but he is not fooling anyone. In New York, a player is judged by championships and nothing else. If Kakko doesn’t hoist the Cup at least twice, he will be judged like Henrik Lundqvist who could never win the big one when it matters. Just being a star in the NHL won’t be good enough for a franchise that has gone through a 25-year Stanley Cup championship drought.
Devils general manager Ray Shero was obviously giddy about his selection. He spent months and years knowing about Hughes, so he has a great feel on the Devils’ new shiny toy. He should be fortunate the lottery balls fell in the Devils’ favor of winning the lottery for the second time in three years.
The Devils have not been an elite team under his watch, and with so many draft picks and cap space to work with, Shero needs to build a Stanley Cup contender sooner rather than later. He could use Hughes to step up right away and speed up the process along with the 20-year-old Nico Hischier, the No. 1 draft pick couple of years ago and Will Butcher.
As much as pressure there is for Shero to build a Cup contender, Hughes shares that same burden being that he should be the Devils’ signature player for years to come.
It’s great that both are good enough to produce right away. The sooner, the better. It creates interest for both teams. Both franchises could use a boost from the impactful rookies. It’s time for Hughes and Kakko to turn sizzle into steak.
Hockey in this town has been dormant in recent years. The Devils and Rangers have been boring, and the Islanders just recently built a foundation this past season. Still, it takes three Metropolitan area teams to do well at the same time to get a hockey conversation and hockey buzz going around town.
For both the Devils and Rangers to get the top two picks, this provides a rebirth and reboot, but now the onus is on Hughes and Kakko to produce quickly.
Yes, patience has to be involved when it comes to young players, but those two played competitive games in developmental camps throughout their career where they should be able to handle pressure. Granted, the NHL is a fast game, and those two won’t know what they are in for right away.
No matter what, both players will be measured and linked to each other as long as they play in the NHL.
They are expected to lead their teams to greatness.