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

LDSS valedictorian Daria Strimbold to represent B.C. for the WE virtual grad party

The event will be hosted by comedian Lilly Singh, on CTV on June 6

Houston mill to re-open June 8

Ends lengthy shutdown which began in March

No fines issued in provincial parks over May longweekend

Activities restricted to day-use only

B.C. government eyes antlerless moose harvest increase in bid to save caribou

Antlerless moose hunts reduce predation for threatened mountain caribou, says ministry

Social distancing at the skatepark — kids style

Kids in the village have taken on board this season of social… Continue reading

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

No charges to be laid against 22 northern B.C. pipeline protesters

Twenty-two people were arrested in February, but Crown has decided not to pursue charges

‘Great Regional Air Hug’ being organized by the Vanderhoof International Airshow Society

A multi-aircraft flyover over the region is being planned for August 15.

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

Most Read