Undersized Hughes stands out as top NHL draft prospect

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Dan Marr will never forget the first time Jack Hughes landed on his radar as a potential top NHL draft prospect.

It happened last summer, when the NHL Central Scouting director was attending a skills camp in Toronto.

After listing New Jersey’s Taylor Hall, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and then-Islanders captain John Tavares as the best three players on the ice, Marr added: “The next best player was Jack Hughes.”

Even at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Marr said the 17-year-old stood out for a variety of reasons.

“It was a series of drills that they were doing that involved skating, quickness, speed, execution, precision. And right away you could see he already has an NHL shot,” Marr said Friday, speaking at the NHL’s annual pre-draft scouting combine being held in Buffalo. “So he’s got the talent that he belongs in that group.”

Very little has happened to change Marr or anyone else’s mind since.

From Orlando, Florida, Hughes is Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater after spending the past two seasons setting USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s record by combining for 228 points (74 goals, 154 assists) in 110 games.

Finland’s Kaapo Kakko is the top-ranked European skater after completing a season in which he helped his nation complete a gold-medal sweep of international titles by winning the world championship last weekend, the world junior title in January and the Under-18 title last year.

The two are projected to be selected with one of the two top picks – the Devils select first followed by the New York Rangers – at the NHL draft at Vancouver, British Columbia on June 21-22.

After joking he’d look good in either a red Devils’ or blue Rangers’ jersey, Hughes said he’d obviously prefer to go first.

“You always dream of being No. 1,” Hughes said. “You don’t dream of being two, three or four when you’re a young kid.”

Hughes is also aware of how he and Kakko will draw comparisons with the likelihood of the two playing on Metropolitan Division rivals.

“We’ll be linked to each other for a lot of years with the Rangers and Devils right there,” Hughes said.

Kakko is not attending the combine because the weeklong event, which includes player-team interviews and medical testing, began a day after Finland beat Canada to win the world championships in Slovakia on Sunday.

“It has zero affect really,” Marr said about Kakko’s absence. “I think the teams understand that. And the teams at the top, they’re just going to have to spend a little bit more time with him when he comes over for the draft.”

The two players differ in size and style of play.

At 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, Kakko is known for his goal-scoring ability and considered more of a power forward.

He led Finland with six goals in 10 games at the World Championship. His 22 goals in the Finnish Elite League last season were the most by a draft-eligible player.

Hughes is a swift-skating, play-making center. He comes from a hockey family. His brother Quinn Hughes is a defenseman who was selected by Vancouver with the No. 7 pick in the draft last year. His father, Jim Hughes, is a former hockey coach, who also served as the Toronto Maple Leafs director of player development.

Hughes credits the time he spend playing youth hockey in Toronto as playing a key role in his development.

“Toronto’s probably the capital of the hockey world. You win the Greater Toronto Hockey League finals, you think it’s the Stanley Cup,” he said. “Do I think I’d be the player I am today without Toronto? Probably not. … That’s the reason I’m here today.”

Hughes also played at the worlds and finished with four assists in four games for the United States, which was eliminated by Russia in the quarterfinal round.

Among the highlights was getting the opportunity to play with NHL stars such as Chicago’s Patrick Kane.

Hughes grew up idolizing Kane as they’re both under-sized forwards who play a similar style.

It came as a shock to Hughes upon hearing Kane pay him a compliment by telling NHL.com he believes Hughes “does a lot of things better than me.”

“You almost think he’s full of (baloney),” Hughes said, before listing the three Stanley Cups and numerous other awards Kane has won. “You name it, he’s got it. To hear your name out of his mouth is one thing. To hear him say those nice things about you truly shows how good of a person he is.”

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Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.