Kaapo Kakko pushed to be selected first in this year’s NHL Entry Draft more than many expected, but in the end the initial presumptive top overall pick claimed the mantle. American center Jack Hughes was selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils and GM Ray Shero. This is the second time in three years that the Devils have won the NHL Draft Lottery and selected first overall and the second time they have used the pick on a center, taking Nico Hischier in 2017.
When Hischier was selected, it was a come-from-behind story, as the Swiss pivot passed up long-anticipated top prospect Nolan Patrick for the honor. This year was the opposite story, as Hughes held off a push from Kakko as both players excelled in their respective seasons and on the international stage. Hughes set records for the U.S. National Team Development Program during his 112-point season, while also chipping in a whopping 20 points in seven games at the U-18 World Juniors, four points in four games at the U-20 World Juniors, and holding his own against NHL competition with three points in seven games at the recent World Championships.
At the end of the day, centers hold a premium over wingers and Hughes in particular is a special talent at the position. His skating, evasiveness, puck possession, and play-making are all elite for his age and he will likely grow into a perennial All-Star given his ability to control pace and create offense. The Devils are in great shape down the middle with Hughes and Hischier in the fold for a long time to come.