Havoc on the Hudson: Hughes and Kakko ready to reignite Rangers-Devils rivalry
It has become a tradition as old as time — the Metropolitan Division of the National Hockey League spending another offseason getting dangerously stronger.
This year feels a bit special, however, with the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers taking Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko as first and second picks overall in the 2019 NHL draft, respectively.
This is the highest draft selection the Rangers have ever had since the expansion era began in 1967, and also the first time that they have had the opportunity to select a franchise-altering player via the draft.
Historically, the Rangers have been known to do all of their roster amplification through free agency with a giant bag of money signed off by James Dolan.
On the other hand, the Rangers’ counterparts across the Hudson River have experience with picking future stars as their first overall, having selected Nico Hischier in that spot back in 2017.
It would be unjust to ignore the fact that all of this came about with a significant stroke of luck, as the Devils and Rangers were originally slotted to pick third and sixth overall in the draft order.
The NHL lottery pingpong balls made for an exciting draft with both clubs receiving surefire elite prospects and also running a draft surplus with the Devils selecting 11 young players, and the Rangers selecting eight through the seven rounds.
It is important to take a deeper look into each team’s first-round selections and what the battle of the Hudson has in store for the future.
New Jersey Devils: Round 1, Pick 1: Jack Hughes (Center, 5’10”, 170lbs) U.S. National U18 Team – USDP
Though there was much debate surrounding the top two picks towards the end of the season, Hughes was still the best player in the entire draft class.
Hughes is undoubtedly projected as an elite first-line center in the NHL and a leader for the Devils. Hughes captained the U.S. National Under-18 team this past season and tallied a stat-line of 34 goals and 78 assists for 112 points in just 50 games, easily breaking the all-time total points record for the U.S. National Development Program. Hughes’ style is very similar to that of Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane.
Both players are considered undersized, but with the NHL becoming a league more focused on skill and speed rather than size, there will be more opportunities for kids under 5’11” to crack NHL rosters.
Hughes’ physical frame is still a cause of concern for scouts since he plays the center position and many doubters believe he will end up playing wing, but that rationale is nonsense when talking about a player of this caliber.
There was no chance that the Devils could have possibly made a mistake with this pick, and they will reap the benefits of their lottery luck for many years to come.
New York Rangers: Round 1, Pick 2: Kaapo Kakko (Right Wing, 6’2”, 190lbs) TPS – Liiga
Kakko certainly does not face the same issue as Hughes regarding his size.
Kakko’s raw untapped skill is not as high as that of Hughes’, but the leg-up that he does have on the first overall pick is his NHL readiness and filled-out frame.
It must be taken into consideration that 6 feet, 2 inches and 190 lbs. is not the most recent measurement on Kakko since he did not attend the NHL combine in Buffalo, so it is very possible that he is a bit heavier and possibly taller since his last official measurement. Kakko was a man amongst men in the top league in Finland, posting 22 goals and 16 assists in 45 games as an 18-year old.
That was good for third on his team in scoring on one of the best teams in one of the best professional leagues in the world. Kakko will be a force to be reckoned with for the Rangers and will potentially have a bigger impact from the get-go than Hughes will, provided his professional experience overseas. Stylistically, Kakko compares to the Florida Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov, while having the offensive upside of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine.
There was no room for error with the first two picks of the 2019 NHL Draft, as both teams selected future stars in this league and being separated by only a river will make this rivalry one of the most marketable the NHL has had in years.
Whether Hughes versus Kakko will ever compare to Sidney Crosby versus Alexander Ovechkin remains to be seen, but there is no denying that things in the Metropolitan Division just got much more interesting.
New Jersey Devils 2019 Draft
Round 1, Pick 1: Jack Hughes (Center, 5’10”, 170lbs) U.S. National U18 Team – USDP
Round 2, Pick 61: Nikita Okhotyuk (Left Defense, 6’1”, 194lbs) Ottawa 67’s – OHL
Round 3, Pick 70: Daniil Misyul (Left Defense, 6’3”, 176lbs) Loko Yaroslavl – MHL
Round 3, Pick 80: Graeme Clarke (Right Wing, 6’0”, 174lbs) Ottawa 67’s – OHL
Round 3, Pick 82: Michael Vukojevic (Left Defense, 6’3”, 212lbs) Kitchener Rangers – OHL
Round 4, Pick 96: Tyce Thompson (Center, 6’0”, 165lbs) Providence College – NCAA
Round 4, Pick 118: Case McCarthy (Right Defense, 6’1”, 198lbs) Boston University – NCAA
Round 5, Pick 127: Cole Brady (Goaltender, 6’5”, 174lbs) Arizona State University – NCAA
Round 5, Pick 129: Arseni Gritsyuk (Left Wing, 5’10”, 168lbs) Omskie Yastreby – MHL
Round 6, Pick 158: Patrick Moynihan (Center, 5’11”, 183lbs) Providence College – NCAA
Round 7, Pick 189: Nikola Pasic (Center, 5’10”, 181lbs) Linkoping HC J20 – SuperElit
New York Rangers 2019 Draft
Round 1, Pick 2: Kaapo Kakko (Right Wing, 6’2”, 190lbs) TPS – Liiga
Round 2, Pick 49: Matthew Robertson (Left Defense, 6’4”, 201lbs) Edmonton Oil Kings – WHL
Round 2, Pick 58: Karl Henriksson (Center, 5’9”, 174lbs) Frolunda HC J20 – SuperElit
Round 3, Pick 68: Zachary Jones (Left Defense, 5’10”, 176lbs) UMass(Amherst) – NCAA
Round 4, Pick 112: Hunter Skinner (Right Defense, 6’3”, 174lbs) Western Michigan – NCAA
Round 5, Pick 130: Leevi Aaltonen (Right Wing, 5’9”, 168lbs) Kalpa – Liiga
Round 6, Pick 161: Adam Edström (Center/Wing, 6’6”, 207lbs) Rogle – SHL/SuperElit
Round 7, Pick 205: Eric Ciccolini (Right Wing, 6’0”, 170lbs) Michigan – NCAA