Jack Hughes

Kaapo Kakko has made his case to be top pick at 2019 NHL Draft

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If the IIHF World Championship is a last-chance-hotel of sorts for a few lucky youngsters looking to lift their draft stock, Finland’s Kaapo Kakko certainly hasn’t checked out yet.

If anything, he’s given the New Jersey Devils brass a headache leading up to the NHL Draft on June 21.

A good headache, of course.

Jack Hughes, the American prodigy who’s set the USA Hockey National Team Development Program ablaze, has been the consensus No. 1 prospect for most of the year, and the year leading up to this draft, and perhaps sometime before that, too. He’s a special player who, in 50 games this season with the program’s U-18 team, put up 34 goals and 112 points, 20 more at the U-18 world championships and four assists in four games at the world juniors.

Thus, Hughes is rated as the top prospect in North America from NHL Central Scouting, and the top prospect in the world by several pundits. When you average 2.24 points per game, these things come pretty naturally. When you put up 228 points in 110 games with the USNTDP — a 2.07 point-per-game clip — you become one of the best, if not the best, to ever emerge from the program.

Hughes has earned his stripes heading into Vancouver, but has his reputation warded off Kakko’s rise at the Worlds?

Kakko hasn’t exactly flown under the radar. Not at all, but he’s lived in Hughes’ shadow. At least, he did.

While both are playing at Worlds right now, it’s Kakko who’s getting the big minutes playing on a Finnish team that isn’t nearly as star-studded as the U.S. So while Hughes has a lonely assist in the tournament, and has only really featured in spurts, Kakko has launched a full-on assault on the minds of Devils general manager Ray Shero and his scouting staff.

Kakko has six goals and one assist in seven games played now at the tournament. He’s shown he can take over games with his hat trick vs. Slovakia, and he’s shown his sublime skill.

That’s two-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Murray between the pipes.

Kakko cares little. Just like he didn’t when he slotted home the game-winning goal to give Finland a gold medal against Hughes’ Americans at the the IIHF World Junior Championship in January.

Kakko is another link in the chain that’s been Finland’s golden years of young prospects who are remarkable. Whatever was in the water 18 to 22 or so years ago should have been bottled.

And it has to make the Devils think.

At 6-foot-2 and nearly 200 pounds already, Kakko comes ready for the NHL game in size. He’s played with men in the Finnish Liiga and is having no issues at all against NHLers at the Worlds either.

In his first full season with TPS, Kakko put up 38 points in 45 games, including 22 goals.

The recent Finnish lineage has included the likes of Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, Arturri Lehkonen, Mikko Rantanen and Miro Heiskanen, among others. Neither of those guys were first overall picks, yet all of them are making massive impacts of the teams they play on.

Hughes probably still goes first in June, and that might just be alright for the New York Rangers, who sit in the second hole knowing they get one or the other.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It was the Kaapo Kakko show vs. Canada at IIHF World Championship

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Kaapo Kakko will likely wind up with the New York Rangers as the No. 2 overall pick in next month’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. On Friday, he showed why New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero should have second thoughts about going with Jack Hughes with the top selection.

During Finland’s 3-1 win over Canada in their opening game of the 2019 IIHF World Championship, the 18-year-old forward scored twice, including this highlight-reel goal in the first period.

Kakko’s profile on Elite Prospects tells you what we saw on that goal. 

“A quick-thinking winger, Kakko never seems to be in a rush. He reads the game exceptionally well and finds himself a step ahead while the play is still developing.”

As soon as the Thomas Chabot turnover lands on Arttu Ilomaki’s stick, Kakko takes off up ice as he sees how the play is developing. Toni Rajala’s touch pass then sends Kakko through Chabot while Brandon Montour takes a penalty in an attempt to stop him. Then the young Finnish forward shows off his edge work and smoothly beats Matt Murray for the opening goal.

The top prospect was later out on the ice as Finland defended their 2-1 lead late in the third period. Kakko, who was named “Player of the Game,” created a turnover and then finished off Canada with an empty-netter to complete his memorable night.

Kakko is eyeing history during the 2019 Worlds. If Finland wins the tournament, he would be the youngest player to ever win gold at the U18, U20 and senior World Championships.

2019 NHL DRAFT FIRST-ROUND ORDER
1. New Jersey Devils
2. New York Rangers
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa Senators)
5. Los Angeles Kings
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Edmonton Oilers
9. Anaheim Ducks
10. Vancouver Canucks
11. Philadelphia Flyers
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Florida Panthers
14. Arizona Coyotes
15. Montreal Canadiens
16. Colorado Avalanche
17. Vegas Golden Knights
18. Dallas Stars
19. Ottawa Senators (from Columbus Blue Jackets)
20. New York Rangers (from Winnipeg Jets)
21. Pittsburgh Penguins
22. Los Angeles Kings (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
23. New York Islanders
24. Nashville Predators
25. Washington Capitals
26. Calgary Flames
27. Tampa Bay Lightning
28. Conference final losing team with fewest points
29. Conference final losing team with most points
30. Stanley Cup Final losing team
31. Stanley Cup winner
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Devils win 2019 NHL Draft Lottery, will select No. 1 overall

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For the second time in three years, the New Jersey Devils have won the NHL Draft Lottery. With the third-best odds heading into Tuesday night, the Devils will now select No. 1 overall in June’s entry draft and have the opportunity to select either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. Two years ago they grabbed Nico Hischier with the top pick.

There was plenty of drama in the lottery, with the Rangers and Blackhawks jumping ahead and finishing in the top three with New Jersey.

Here’s how the rest of the top 15 picks landed:

1. New Jersey Devils
2. New York Rangers
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. Colorado Avalanche (originally owned by Ottawa)
5. Los Angeles Kings
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Edmonton Oilers
9. Anaheim Ducks
10. Vancouver Canucks
11. Philadelphia Flyers
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Florida Panthers
14. Arizona Coyotes
15. Montreal Canadiens

Three draws were held: The first drawing determined the team picking first overall, the second drawing determined the team picking second overall and the third drawing determined the team picking third overall. Once a team was assigned a pick, it was ineligible for further participation in subsequent drawings.

The remaining positions are determined by the results of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Devils general manager Ray Shero said this week he wants to add more talent to his roster. Getting the top pick in the draft is a good start in accomplishing that. It also helped that he employs a special lucky charm.

Per Sportsnet, here’s a look at some of the top prospects who could land early in the first round:

1. Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP, 5-foot-10, 168 lbs.
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS (Liiga), 6-foot-2, 194 lbs.
3. Vasily Podkolzin, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (MHL), 6-foot-1, 190 lbs.
4. Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL), 6-foot-3, 181 lbs.
5. Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver Giants (WHL), 6-foot, 194 lbs.
6. Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP, 5-foot-11, 189 lbs.
7. Trevor Zegras, C, USNTDP, 6-foot, 166 lbs.
8. Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon Blades (WHL), 6-foot-3, 199 lbs.
9. Matthew Boldy, LW, USNTDP, 6-foot-1, 187 lbs.
10. Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL), 5-foot-11, 180 lbs.

The Avalanche are preparing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs but owned the Senators’ 2019 first-round pick through the Matt Duchene trade last season. GM Joe Sakic is certainly happy to add No. 4 overall with wherever Colorado lands with their own pick in the final 16 selections in Round 1.

The 2019 NHL Draft will take place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The first round will be held Friday, June 21. Rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday, June 22.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL 2019 Draft Lottery: Details, No. 1 pick odds, top prospects

Now that the 2018-19 season is over, we not only know the 16 teams that will vie for the Stanley Cup but also the teams who have their eyes on the top pick in June’s NHL Draft. One team that will have its eyes closed are the Ottawa Senators, who finished 31st in the league but do not have a first-round pick this year after dealing it away to the Colorado Avalanche in the Matt Duchene trade last season.

For the last four years, the draft lottery has taken place during the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The NHL announced last month that it is going back to the old way and holding it the night before the opening round begins — April 9th (NBCSN; 8 p.m. ET).

Per the NHL, here’s how it will work:

The 2019 NHL Draft Lottery will consist of three drawings: the 1st Lottery Draw will determine the club selecting first overall, the 2nd Lottery Draw will determine the club selecting second overall and the 3rd Lottery Draw will determine the club selecting third overall.

The odds for the remaining teams will increase on a proportionate basis for the 2nd Lottery Draw, based on which club wins the 1st Lottery Draw, and again for the 3rd Lottery Draw, based on which club wins the 2nd Lottery Draw.

The 12 clubs not selected in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery will be assigned 2019 NHL Draft selections 4 through 15, in inverse order of regular-season points.

Via the NHL, the allocation of odds for the first Lottery Draw of the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery is as follows:

(Fewest Points to Most)               Odds
Colorado Avalanche (from OTT)  18.5%
Los Angeles Kings                         13.5%
New Jersey Devils                         11.5%
Detroit Red Wings                           9.5%
Buffalo Sabres                                 8.5%
New York Rangers                          7.5%
Edmonton Oilers                             6.5%
Anaheim Ducks                               6.0%
Vancouver Canucks                        5.0%
Philadelphia Flyers                          3.5%
Minnesota Wild                                3.0%
Chicago Blackhawks                       2.5%
Florida Panthers                              2.0%
Arizona Coyotes                              1.5%
Montreal Canadiens                        1.0%

Finally, here are the midterm NHL Central Scouting rankings of the top prospects in this year’s entry draft, which will be held June 21-22 in Vancouver. Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are expected to be the top two selections.

North American Skaters

European Skaters

North American Goalies

European Goalies

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jack, Luke, and Quinn Hughes grow up together with hockey

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With Quinn Hughes going seventh overall – and already seeming like a steal – for the Vancouver Canucks in 2018, and Jack ranking as the consensus pick for first overall in the next draft, the Hughes family feels like a factory for high-end talent. There’s even a younger Hughes brother named Luke.

As great as it is going to be to see the Hughes brothers tear up the NHL, it’s really something to see all of the family footage of the trio growing up. They’re playing hockey indoors and outdoors, and there’s even an adorable baby/kids in hockey gear photo. It’s truly great stuff.

Enjoy the video above of these promising Hughes kids, and their loving parents. As Luke notes, they’re best friends.

NBC Sports is celebrating Hockey Day in America with an NHL Sunday tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Pre-game studio coverage begins at noon ET on NBC with NHL Live, which will be on-site in Hockeytown at The Rink at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit, Mich. Liam McHugh and Kathryn Tappen will anchor pre-game, intermission and post-game coverage throughout the day alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick. In addition, Tappen will provide reports and interviews from the Team USA vs. Canada women’s hockey game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Sunday afternoon.

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule:
N.Y. Rangers at Pittsburgh – NBC – 12:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
St. Louis at Minnesota – NBC – 3:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
Philadelphia at Detroit – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.