In this Nov. 27, 2018, file photo, hockey player Jack Hughes is interviewed in Plymouth, Mich. The New Jersey Devils have a decision to make between selecting American centre Hughes and Finland forward Kaapo Kakko with the first pick in the NHL draft on Friday, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

VIDEO: Top NHL draft prospects Hughes and Kakko know they’ll always be linked

The two are on course to be selected No. 1 and No. 2 at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena on Friday

Jack Hughes shook hands with Kaapo Kakko for the first time Thursday.

If the expected script plays out at the NHL draft, the two potential future stars know their stories will be intertwined for years to come.

NHL Draft 2019: First-round mock selections

Hughes and Kaapo are on course to be selected No. 1 and No. 2 at Rogers Arena on Friday, with the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers owning the first two selections.

“It’s right here,” Hughes said during a noon-hour media availability with fellow prospects on the top deck of a yacht in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour neighbourhood. ”When you close your eyes that’s what you’re thinking about.

“Now that it’s finally here, I’m going to enjoy it.”

But although Hughes and Kakko will be forever linked, the pair are a lesson in contrasts.

The former is a five-foot-10, 170-pound American-born centre with slick hands, while the latter is a powerful Finnish winger that already looks like a man at six foot two and 194 pounds.

“This is a new thing,” said Kakko, who is working to improve his English. “It’s coming, great day for me.”

The 18-year-old Hughes put up a record 154 assists and 228 points over the last two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Kakko, also 18, scored 22 goals — a record for a draft-eligible prospect — and added 16 assists in his country’s top professional division in 2018-19.

Hughes said having their career paths compared and dissected should be interesting.

“You saw (Alex) Ovechkin and (Sidney) Crosby do it,” Hughes said. ”I’m not saying we’re going to be Ovechkin and Crosby, but I’m saying it’s going to be pretty cool to be linked like that.”

Hughes was born in Orlando, Fla., but spent his formative years in the Toronto area when his father worked for the Maple Leafs.

The younger Hughes, who registered 112 points in 50 games with the USNTDP in 2018-19 and is the brother of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (seventh overall in 2018), is looking to become the eighth American-born player to go No. 1 and the first since Toronto took Auston Matthews in 2016.

“He’s a really nice kid,” Matthews said of Jack Hughes earlier this week. ”Everybody has seen tape and goals that he’s scored, just plays that he can make, he looks to be like a really special player.

“It’s awesome, another American projected to be first overall. It’s amazing, I think he’s going to be great for the game. Whether it’s New Jersey, New York, wherever he’s going to go, I think he’s going to do great there.”

Kakko, meanwhile, has already won three gold medals internationally, including scoring the winning goal for his country at the 2019 world junior hockey championship in Vancouver before helping the Finns capture the recent men’s worlds in Slovakia.

“Good memories here,” the Turku product said of Vancouver. ”Nice city.”

Dan Marr, the NHL’s director of Central Scouting, said the choice between the two stud forwards could come down to personal preference.

“(Kakko’s) a little more physically developed,” Marr said. ”That dictates the type of game he’s capable of playing, the situations he can be used in, the results that he gets. Skill levels, smarts, skating, you go down the whole list of boxes to check off, and he has those.

“Jack comes across more as that skilled elite forward, where you play the game with speed, quickness … it’s going to be hard to say down the road who’s going to be better than who because they’re both going to bring different things to the table.”

Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram could be the first Canadian to come off the draft board at No. 3 to the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I’m trying not to worry about things,” he said. ”I did all I could do.

“Now I just kind of get to sit back and relax and whatever happens, happens.”

Lethbridge Hurricanes centre Dylan Cozens, meanwhile, is primed to become the first player ever from Yukon to be drafted in the first round.

Edmonton own the highest pick among Canadian NHL teams at No. 8, followed by Vancouver (10th), Montreal (15th), Ottawa (19th), Winnipeg (20th) and Calgary (26th). Toronto isn’t slated to step to the microphone until Saturday’s second round at No. 53.

All the highly-touted prospects will be long gone by then, with the USNTDP looking primed for a banner night during Friday’s first round.

Apart from Hughes, centres Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras, as well as wingers Cole Caulfield and Matthew Boldy, all figure to potentially go in the top-10. Ten members of the program are slotted in among NHL Central Scouting’s top-50 players in North America, not including Spencer Knight, the continent’s top-ranked goalie.

Heading into Rogers Arena, the USNTDP has never had more than three players selected in the opening round immediately following their two-year terms in Plymouth, Mich.

But Friday will be remembered for Hughes and Kakko.

And both know no matter which player’s name is called first, this is just the beginning of their journey.

“We’ll be linked together for a long time — Devils, Rangers,” Hughes said. ”It should be pretty cool. It should be a lot of fun.”

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Local officials sign proclamation declaring Feb. 16th to 22nd as Kin Canada Week

On Feb. 20th, Kin Week was proclaimed in Stettler in honour of 100 years of Kin in Canada

Bashaw filmmakers produce striking short film

Documentary showcases how a unique ecosystem is surviving

Summer Villages halt Stettler County’s Buffalo Lake amendment request

White Sands and Rochon Sands oppose density increase at Buffalo Lake RV Resort

Central Alberta’s Gord Bamford adds Bashaw and Hanna dates to the #REDNEK Music Fest

The tour features Jess Moskaluke and other special guests

Blair says RCMP have met Wet’suwet’en conditions, calls for end to blockades

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project

Portrait of the Coastal GasLink, a pipeline to divide a nation

In mid-February, 46 per cent of the pipeline route had been cleared

Alberta ends master agreement with doctors, new rules to be in place April 1

The current master agreement with physicians ends March 31

Alberta rail conductor fired for social media posts awarded money, but not reinstatement

Arbitrator Richard Hornung says that he agreed with the Teamsters union

Kids exposed to household cleaners as newborns more likely to get asthma: study

Air fresheners, plug-in deodorizers, antimicrobial hand sanitizers and oven cleaners were the worst culprits

Burger King breaks the mould with new advertising campaign

The company is known for irreverent ad campaigns

PHOTOS: RCMP call on kids to name latest police puppy recruits

This year’s theme is the letter ‘N,’ and 13 German shephards must be named

Federal minister pledges to meet Wet’suwet’en chiefs in B.C. over natural gas pipeline

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say they are visiting Mohawk territory

Pipeline dispute: Tories put no-confidence motion on House of Commons agenda

Conservatives say they have no confidence in the Trudeau government to end the rail blockades

Most Read