Jack Hughes has been at the center of many Devils fans minds for months now. When the Devils season took an early turn for the worse between injuries and unfathomable slumps, the chant “Lose for Hughes” became the rally cry for fans attempting to find the bright side. On April 9th, fans hoping the Devils’ losing season would turn into something productive in this years draft lottery got their wish—despite their third place finish, luck and Taylor Hall’s lottery magic favored the Devils and they were selected to make the first overall pick in this years draft. Now fans of the tank had yet another debate to enter—Jack Hughes, or Kaapo Kakko?
Kakko, a Finnish right wing, struck many fans with his bigger size, incredible puck control and shooting skills and high level of success on the international hockey stage this year. You can read Kakko’s prospect profile from Brain here, and Hughes’ from here. However, most still ranked him at #2 behind Hughes—AAtJ’s mock draft voted unanimously for Hughes to go first, and Devils scouts and GM Ray Shero apparently agree. Kakko is a pure goal scorer and will no doubt have success in the NHL, but Jack Hughes is both a center—which are almost always considered more valuable than wings even if the two players are of equal talent—and a better, more well-rounded player overall. Shero played his cards extremely close to the vest as he usually does and let very little information slip regarding his preference for either player, but the Devils community can now with certainly say “Jack Hughes is a New Jersey Devil”.
Like Kakko, Hughes was no stranger to success this past season. Hughes is now the leader for most points all-time for the USNTDP, surpassing the scores of household names like Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, and Patrick Kane, and beating the record most recently held by Clayton Keller. Elite Prospects has his stats from the tournament plus regular seasons here. He was named to the Men’s Team at the IIHF World Championships following Team USA’s elimination from the U18 tournament and did his part despite playing through an injury of some sort.
So what makes Jack Hughes the unanimous #1 pick?
Hughes scouting reports scream thesaurus, as scouts have quite simply run out of ways to describe his talent level and skillset. Descriptors including dynamic, electrifying, extremely dangerous, explosive, dominant have all been applied to nearly every draft pick but seem to take on new meaning and a higher level when applied to Hughes skills. Part of what makes him so good is his immensely high hockey IQ and a silky-smooth set of hands, a deadly combination which allows him to weave through opposing players with ease and incredible confidence. His biggest asset, however, is his skating ability--he’s both lightning fast and incredibly agile. His elite combination of skills leads to comparisons like Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane, and these genuinely aren’t reaches for what he’s capable of. When asked to comment on the comparisons between the two, Kane stated he believes Hughes does several things better than Kane himself. Kane is also a fair representation of what is considered Hughes’ biggest drawback—his relatively small stature. Hughes comes into the draft at 5’10” and 170lbs, leaving him 3 inches shorter and 30 lbs lighter than your average NHL player. That being said, he’s no Johnny Gaudreau either—at only 17, its nearly guaranteed he’ll bulk up a bit more by the time he takes NHL ice. Size was one of the main arguments for Kakko over Hughes—Kakko comes in at 6’1” and 190lbs—but as many have pointed out, the NHL is transitioning to a smaller, faster style anyway and players around the same size as Hughes have been lighting up the league. Kane, Gaudreau, Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin, Mitch Marner, and our own Jesper Bratt are all within the same height and weight bracket, and are clearly having no trouble performing to NHL standards. Calder winner Elias Petterson and our other beloved first overall pick Nico Hischer are both about the same weight but a few inches taller—meaning Hughes is actually bulkier than Hischier. Size is therefore not at all likely to affect Hughes ability to compete at the NHL level.
A few quotes on Hughes-
Says TSN’s Craig Button on Hughes vs Kakko: (and also a good explanation of why Centers are almost always considered more valuable than wings)
Hughes impacts the game in more ways, he’s electrifying and, I think, the superior player. I think his skating is better, his hands are better, his creativity is better, and he’s got more ice to work with in the position he plays...
Kaapo is going to have to wait for the puck but Jack’s going to have it. To me, the player that has the puck more and can have more of a free-skating game, instead of playing on the wing, is going to have more of a chance to impact the game. Jack does that, he does it with his mind, he does it with skating and does it with his hands.
A few other quotes on Hughes from anonymous NHL Scouts:
How the [heck] are opponents supposed to know what he’s going to do when even he doesn’t know what he’s going to do because he doesn’t play a paint-by-numbers game. Jack looks at the canvas and says I’m going to put a blue sky here and sunrise over here. He keeps defenders on their heels and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him enter the zone backwards and turn sideways to create something. He impacts the game wherever he is on the ice, and he has the ability to be dangerous at the snap of your fingers.
Hughes is a dynamic hockey player. He’s skilled, his IQ is first-rate; he’s the whole package. I think there’s only a conversation between Hughes and Kakko now because of how Kakko played in April (at the IIHF World Championship) versus how Jack did with the U.S. team. I think it’s close, but not the way people think it might be. Kakko could play in the League next year and be successful and Jack could struggle. But, I’m telling you now, in three years when Jack has the League figured out, he’s going to be a special player.
Riding Pine’s Brandon Holmes on Hughes:
The hallmark of Hughes’ game is world class skating ability, skill, and creativity. Jack is one of the best skaters that has come through the Draft in the past decade, and he uses his skating ability to gain an edge on defenders with regularity. Though his top speed isn’t quite at the level of McDavid or MacKinnon, I’d argue Jack could be the quickest player on his edges in the NHL as early as the 2019-20 season, as it’s his edgework and quick cuts that allow Jack to bring a level of explosiveness and elusiveness to his game. Hughes also owns world-class hands that allow him to handle the puck as quick as his feet can move, as he’s consistently able to change angles on both defenders and goalies in order to create opportunities. Remarkable vision and among the best passers in the draft, which makes him a major threat on the powerplay.
Hughes has incredible drive and motivation to succeed that can be seen in his games. He’s not just out-talenting most of the players on the ice, but also out-working them. Much of his absolutely ceaseless motor and compete level can be attributed to his family life growing up. Every member of the Hughes household is an elite level hockey player. His older brother Quinn was drafted in the first round of the 2018 entry draft by the Vancouver Canucks, and put on quite the show in the few games he played at the end of this past season. The youngest brother Luke is expected to be a potential first round pick as well when his eligibility rolls around. Their father, Jim Hughes, captained the team at Providence College during his time there before working as an assistant coach for the Boston Bruins and Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their mother Ellen Hughes also played college hockey and is a member of the University of New Hampshire Athletics Hall of Fame. She went on to join the US Women’s National team, competing in the 1992 World Championships and coming home with a silver medal. Hughes credits his mother for teaching him how to skate. With the level of hockey pedigree found in the Hughes household, its no wonder Jack Hughes is the incredibly talented and motivated center we just watched put on a New Jersey Devils sweater for the first time.
If you haven’t seen some of Hughes’ highlight reel moments (aka his entire playing career) or just want to draw out this moment, have a look at some of these amazing Jack Hughes plays:
If you’re a Lose for Hughes fan or just a happy Devils fan right now, say it with me: Jack Hughes is a New Jersey Devil!
If you’re not happy with this pick… say it anyway! And be sure to vote in the poll below and join the discussion in the comments!
A full reaction and a summary of the media coverage from today’s events will be up later. For now, thanks for reading!
With the First Overall Pick in 2019, the Devils have Drafted Jack Hughes. What do you think?
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