ST. LOUIS — It’s been a pretty busy year for Jack Hughes as the 2019 NHL Draft approaches (June 21-22; NBCSN).
The projected No. 1 overall pick played 74 games between the USA U-18s and U.S. National Team Development Program, as well as seven games at the U-18 World Championship, four games at the World Junior Championship, and seven more with the senior men’s team at the World Championship.
After competing at the senior Worlds in Slovakia, Hughes then shuttled off to Buffalo for the NHL Combine last week. On Monday, he was in St. Louis along with four other top draft prospects to attend Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. They were able to meet players from both the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues and enjoy some downtime.
“I think the next couple weeks will be pretty important for me to just relax, play some golf, hang out, decompress a little bit, and just be a kid because come June 21st my life will change a lot,” Hughes said.
The New Jersey Devils own the first pick in the draft and it’s expected that general manager Ray Shero will select the 18-year-old forward. Fellow top prospect Kaapo Kakko, who will likely land with the New York Rangers at No. 2, put on a show for Finland as they won gold at the Worlds last month. The idea that both top picks will be playing not only in the division but the same market excites Hughes.
“I think it’ll be really competitive for a lot of years,” Hughes said. “Whether it’s the Devils or Rangers, we’re going to be linked to each other for a long time with us going to places so close to each other. Maybe a little bit of a rivalry between the Devils and Rangers. I think it’ll be a lot of fun for years to come.”
When asked if the prospect of that rivalry would motivate him, Hughes said he didn’t need any extra motivation while playing against the NHL’s best every night.
“You’re playing Crosby, you’re playing O’Reilly, you’re playing unbelievable players every night,” he said.
Representing Team USA at the Worlds, Hughes, who noted he has a relationship with Taylor Hall, got to meet a likely future teammate in Devils goaltender Cory Schneider and head coach John Hynes. The experience allowed him to get his feet wet playing against pros and players he’ll be lining up across for years to come.
Hughes, who grew up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan while his dad, Jim, worked as Director of Player Development, for the team, will join brother Quinn as NHL draftees in just a few weeks. The Vancouver Canucks selected Quinn No. 7 overall last year. In two years, younger brother Luke will likely join them.
The hype and long road to the NHL Draft will end in a little over two weeks. The pressure will only increase once he puts on the jersey of his new team, and Hughes is ready to embrace his next step in hockey as the likely No. 1 pick.
“I think it’ll be special,” Hughes said. “Worked a lot of years for this, so if it does end up being that it’ll be an awesome moment.”
MORE: Jack, Luke, and Quinn Hughes grow up together with hockey
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.