Luck of the Draw: Devils and Blueshirts land top 2 picks in 2019 Draft
For the 15 teams that will not be competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, their consolation prize is participation in the annual end-of-season draft lottery. This is their version of the playoffs, as they all salivate at the golden opportunity to land a top draft selection that could alter the direction of the franchise. Though there is no actual on-ice competition like the playoffs, it still feels like a battle to land a top prize. By this time of year, several prospects have made their way up to the leaderboard and the lottery essentially becomes a sweepstakes for those particular players.
For two of the New York metropolitan area-based teams, this draft lottery was a night that fans and team executives will remember for a long time. After the Colorado Avalanche were given the fourth overall pick, excitement began to build up among the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, who were guaranteed a top-three selection. Things got even more interesting when the Chicago Blackhawks were given the third overall pick. In an unlikely turn of events, the top two picks in the 2019 NHL Draft now belonged to the Rangers and Devils. The next reveal was for who was selecting first overall. For the second time in three years, the Devils claimed that ultimate prize and won the draft lottery with the No. 1 overall pick. The Rangers were awarded the No. 2 pick.
For New York, it was their first top-three draft pick in franchise history. Their first one couldn't have come at a better time. For New Jersey, this is an opportunity to take control and get their second potential franchise savior in just three years.
The Devils had the third-best odds to land the top pick, while the Rangers had the sixth-best odds. Both teams jumped the expectations and now control their own destiny. It's also important to note that the Blackhawks, who hold the No. 3 overall pick, had the 12th-best odds to win the lottery and made the biggest jump out of all 15 teams participating.
As for the players that the two local teams can select, there isn't much debate as to who the top two prospects are in this year's draft class.
Up first is Jack Hughes, a 17-year old American wunderkind that absolutely dominated in the prestigious U.S. National Team Development Program. Hughes has been the consensus top prospect for many months prior to the lottery, and for good reason. He is the USNTDP's all-time leading scorer with 190 points, beating out the the likes of other young American superstar alumni such as Auston Matthews, Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller. The unique skill set, incredible hands, and superior skating ability only adds to the unbeatable hype surrounding his draft stock. His older brother, Quinn, already had a small taste of NHL experience this season with the Vancouver Canucks.
Over in Europe, specifically in Finland, another highly-touted player has made a name for himself as the second-best prospect, though some scouts have him potentially landing No. 1. His name is Kaapo Kakko. He is arguably the next great Finish forward to take his talents to the NHL, following in the footsteps of legends like Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, as well as current stars like Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov. Like Hughes, Kakko has incredible hockey IQ at an astonishingly young age that has helped him rise to stardom and has him ready to transition to the NHL.
He only recently turned 18 and had one of the most productive seasons for a draft-eligible player in recording 22 goals and 38 points in 45 games for TPS Turku. He also dominated for the gold-medal winning Finns in the World Junior Championships and is scheduled to play in the World Championships next month.
As the owners of the top two picks, the Devils and Rangers are all but certain to pick either one of these two.
For New Jersey, the pressure is on to make the right selection. Hughes will likely be their choice, giving the Devils a lethal version of hockey's Triple-H combo of Hughes, 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier, and Taylor Hall. A potential line of three No. 1 draft picks is extremely likely, and Devils fans cannot wait to watch it unfold.
For New York, they have nothing to lose, as either Hughes or Kakko will accelerate the rebuild and only brighten their future even more. In addition, along with their No. 2 pick, the Rangers could potentially have three more first-round selections in the draft.
They already own the Winnipeg Jets' first-round pick, which they acquired after trading center Kevin Hayes.
They also have a great chance at getting the Tampa Bay Lightning's first-round pick, which is currently a second-round pick that the Rangers own from trading Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller last season, if the Lightning win the Stanley Cup this year. These odds are very favorable, with Tampa dominating the league and having the best odds of winning it all.
Finally, New York can snag the Dallas Stars' first-round pick, which is also currently a second-round pick that the Rangers own from trading Mats Zuccarello. The Stars must reach the Western Conference Finals this postseason and Zuccarello, who New York traded to Dallas, has to play at least 50 percent of their games in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The opportunity to have four first-round picks has to be music to Rangers fans' ears. Two are guaranteed, including their own No. 2 selection.
As if the Rangers-Devils rivalry wasn't intense enough, it just got a whole lot better, with two future superstars clashing as Hudson River foes.
They may not be hoisting the Stanley Cup in June, but the Rangers and Devils already won. Their time to lift the Cup will come, but what they have now in their top two picks is the next best thing.