The Jack Hughes vs Kaapo Kakko debate has been a hot topic since scouts starting popping out rankings of the 2019 draft class. With the Devils and Rangers drawing first and second overall, the cross river rivalry added a whole new level of fuel to the debate fire. The NHL and hockey media love a good draft comparison— Crosby and Ovechkin, 1st overalls one year apart, Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine going #1 and #2, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel the same, and now Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. The comparison has followed each of the other sets through their careers thus far, so its likely Hughes and Kakko will be tied together for many years to come, providing another level of drama to the Devils-Rangers rivalry for fans to feast upon.
Hughes and Kakko aren’t the only first round picks from either organization in recent years though, so why not spread the comparison across the past few years? The Devils and Rangers have each had at least one pick in the first round of the draft the past three years in a row. As first round prospects are usually a large part of the prospect talent pool for an organization, here’s a breakdown of game stats and overall performance and usage metrics for the first round picks of each team through the past few drafts.
2019- Jack Hughes (1) Kaapo Kakko (2)
2018- Ty Smith (17) K’Andre Miller (22)
Nils Lundkqvist (28)
2017- Nico Hischier (1) Lias Andersson (7)
Filip Chytil (21)
Round 1— 2019 Draft Class: Hughes vs Kakko
61gp 7g 14a 21p = .344ppg 123 shots 5.7sh% ixG 13.22 Off-zone start%=84.42%
Competition quality = -0.4 CF%(total): 54.19 CF%(5x5): 45.79
5x5 xG offense with: -2% w/o: -10% defense with: +10% w/o: +5%
Power play with: +16% w/o: -4%
66gp 10g 13a 23p = .348ppg 109 shots 9.2sh% ixG 8.89 Off-zone start%=63.21%
Competition quality = 0.00 CF%(total): 50.42 CF%(5x5): 43.62
5x5 xG offense with: -12% w/o: +8% defense with: +33% w/o: +9%
Power play with: +13% w/o: +13%
Both players had rough seasons on even rougher teams their first year, so it’s not surprising neither has stunning point totals. Hughes has a slight edge in shot percentages, however his usage statistics show he spent more of his time starting in the offensive zone, which likely covers the small difference there. The verdict falls to w&w/o and ixG— Hughes has a much better individual expected goal total. Kakko’s offensive contribution is slightly better, but his detriment to the defensive effort is stunningly bad— teams were about 25% more likely to score against the Rangers when Kakko was on the ice than when he was not. Hughes has not had the best defensive impact either, but his differential was only 5%. That combined with Kakko’s nonexistent impact on the powerplay compaed to Hughes’ +20% impact swings the vote.
Round 2—2018 Draft Class: Ty Smith vs. K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkqvist
As lower draft picks, none of the 2018 class have made it to the NHL yet. With all three playing in different leagues this season, it would be tough to compare their performance, but fortunately we have one common ground between all three defensemen: they all played in this past season’s IIHF World Junior Championships tournament.
2019-20 season: WHL Spokane Chiefs
46 gp 19g 40a 59p
2019 WJC: 7gp 0g 3a 3p
2019-20 season: NCAA U. Wisconsin
36gp 7g 11a 19p
2019 WJC: 5gp 0g 2a 2p
2019-20 season: Swedish Hockey League Luleå HF
46gp 11g 20a 31p
2019 WJC: 7gp 1g 7a 8p
Rangers prospect Nils Lundkqvist made a big splash this season, both in his home league in Sweden and at the WJC. His numbers at the tournament blow away the other two players, and it wasn’t just that he was playing for the best team— Sweden and Canada were both eliminated in the quarter finals while K’Andre Miller and the US team went on to win the silver medal. Back in Sweden Lundkqvist shattered the league record for points by a u20 defenseman, beating out numbers put up by NHLers like Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson with 31 points in 46 games.
Ty Smith is no stranger to winning awards either however — the Canadian defenseman has won the WHL Top Defenseman award two years in a row and capped this past year off with the CHL Defenseman of the Year award as well. Smith’s point totals also dwarf Lundkqvists in a similar number of games, but its tough to make that comparison stick across leagues.
Round 3—2017 Draft Class: Nico Hischier vs Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil
Hischier being the first overall pick leaves him with an early head start in this race, but the Rangers have two prospects from this first round for him to beat.
Total: 209gp 51g 84a 135p = .646ppg 463 shots 9.08sh%
Best season ixG = 20.41
Off-zone start%=63.4% Competition quality = 1.0 CF%(total): 52.45 CF%(5x5): 47.83
5x5 xG offense with: +1% w/o: -11% defense with: +7% w/o: +6%
Power Play with: +21% w/o: -4%
Penalty Kill with: -12% w/o: -15%
Total: 66gp 3g 6a 9p = .132ppg 58 shots 19.3sh%
Best season ixG = 2.56
Off-zone start%=29.63% Competition quality = n/a CF%(total): 34.04 CF%(5x5): 40.00
5x5 xG offense with: -27% w/o: +5% defense with: +12% w/o: +15%
Power Play with: -4% w/o: +13%
Penalty Kill with: +10% w/o: +33%
Total: 144gp 26g 23a 49p = .340ppg 268 shots 10.30sh%
Best season ixG = 12.09
Off-zone start%=59.66% Competition quality = -.01 CF%(total): 50.15 CF%(5x5): 47.74
5x5 xG offense with: +6% w/o: +3% defense with: +14% w/o: +15%
Power Play with: +0% w/o: +16%
Penalty Kill: n/a
Even with the two against one, this one just isn’t fair—our N1co does it all. More than doube the points of both the Rangers players combined, a higher ixG, and a far better offensive and defensive impact than either or even both Andersson and Chytil. Andersson’s positive impact on the penalty kill is worth noting, but it doesn’t tip the boat very far in his favor—in fact. Andersson has been loaned to the Swedish HV71 club and is not expected to return to New York for at least the remainder of this season. Chytil has been a decent contributor, but he’s far from a top player— his use on the power play actually made it 16% less effective.
Verdict: Hischier by a mile
NHL players: w&w/os from HockeyViz; Competition quality from LeftWingLock; all other stats from Natural Stat Trick
2018 non-NHLers: stats from Elite Prospects
Final Score- Devils 2, Rangers 1
What’s All This Mean?
Some hopefully good news looking forward from a few very rough years for both teams, but especially the Devils. The pool of young talent between both teams is alive and well, and with a couple young prospects each looking ready to make their NHL debuts, the Hudson River Rivalry should be a fun battle for many years to come. As Devils fans, with Hischier and Hughes at the helm and Ty Smith behind them, we’re looking at a strong youth core we can build our team around for the forseeabe future. With later round picks like Jesper Bratt, Jesper Boqvist, and Mackenzie Blackwood exceeding expectations around them, we can look forward to enjoying some good years ahead.
Do you agree with my ratings or would you vote differently on each draft class, and why? Which rookies/prospects are you most looking forward to seeing on each team in the coming years? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and as always, thanks for reading!