Devils Draft Preview: Will It Be Hughes or Kakko?

Picture yourself as Ray Shero.

You have walked up to the National Hockey League podium on Friday night in Vancouver to make the first pick in 2019’s Entry Draft.

Which would your selection be — the astonishingly talented American center Jack Hughes or the Finnish Flash Kaapo Kakko?

Devils analyst Bryce Salvador breaks down the top two prospects in the NHL Draft, Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, and explains how his choice for the first overall pick would fit in with the New Jersey Devils.

Like a sage poker player, New Jersey’s general manager is keeping his cards close to his vest. All he’s willing to acknowledge is that his choice will be one that fits the club’s needs — both artistically and in marketing terms.

Let’s face it, keeping up with the rival Rangers and Islanders always is part of Shero’s thinking.

“The thing with New York and New Jersey,” Shero insists, “is that we need rivalries. Our brand is too be relevant. That’s what we want to do (with our pick.)”

A good case could be made for New Jersey’s hockey boss to choose the American ace, Hughes, or the Gold Medal star of the recent World Championships, Kakko.

Canada’s crack hockey analyst, Bob McKenzie, has tracked the players for more than half a year and still has Hughes in the catbird seat. Many agree with that choice and everyone agrees that nobody knows who’s going where.

Devils general manager Ray Shero calls into the MSG 150 via the VCC to talk about the options New Jersey will have with the first pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and discusses the process of scouting Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.

Veteran hockey writer Rick Carpiniello of The Athletic thought he could get a clue by giving Jeff Gorton the third-degree but got nowhere about Shero’s intentions.

“Ray’s not going to tell anybody what he’s going to do,” said Gorton. “He’s had the first pick before and he’s going to do what he’s going to do.”

When he picked Nico Hischier first overall in 2017, his announcement on stage was the first time everybody found out what he was doing. I expect that this time it will be the same thing.”

In terms of the combination of skill and marketing potential, Hughes would seem to have an edge over the less-publicized Finn.

The fact that Jack’s photo is plastered over The Hockey News “Draft Preview” while Kakko’s name is buried in the bottom right corner says a whole lot about Hughes’ marketability.

“Hughes was destined for stardom,” says Hockey News lead columnist Ken Campbell. “His American bloodlines gave him the talent and the Canadian outdoors — he played lots of hockey in Toronto — gave him the passion. Now his internal motor gives him the drive.”

A dynamic playmaking center, Jack Hughes has been touted to be one of the first picks in the 2019 NHL Draft for quite some time. Learn more about the 18-year-old!

Leo Scaglione, Jr., who delivers scouting reports for MSG Networks Devils telecasts, imagines New Jersey with a sweet-one-two youthful punch.

“Hughes and Nico Hischier would make a terrific offensive combo,” Leo allows. “Then again, Nico and Kakko wouldn’t be too bad either.”

One NHL scout places Hughes in the same competitive category as Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel when those superior performers were drafted.

Scott Monaghan, Senior USA National Team Development Program Director of Operations, likens Hughes to Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane.

“Jack’s like Patrick because of his skating and shiftiness,” says Monaghan.

Unlike Kane, Matthews and Eichel, Hughes will be the first player to jump from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program right into the NHL.

If there’s a drawback to Jack’s game, it has to be his shot. It needs improvement but — judging by his overall motivation and skill level, it will get better with time.

Then again, McKenzie’s prediction that Hughes will be Shero’s pick is contradicted by some general managers who have studied the pair with an Argus’ eye.

The pervasive managerial theory always has been to “Take the best available player.”

Hero did just that when he chose Hischier two years ago although the prevailing opinion then was that Nolan Patrick — chose second by Philadelphia — was better. The Devils were proven right; the Flyers wrong.

Based on Kakko’s superior performance in the 2019 World Championships, the Finn has to be rated over Uncle Sam’s choice.

Finland's Kaapo Kakko is an electric player and will land either with the New Jersey Devils at No. 1 or the New York Rangers at No. 2 in the 2019 NHL Draft. Here's what you need to know about Central Scouting's #2 ranked prospect. Don't miss coverage of Rookie Week all week long on MSG, MSG GO and throughout the MSG 150!

Who, in the end, will Shero select?

Nobody really knows, but John Davidson has the best punch line:

“Whoever it is will help define his franchise!”

[Watch the MSG 150 NHL Draft Special Live Friday at 8 PM on MSG Networks & MSG Go. Get the App Now.]