VANCOUVER — The New Jersey Devils selected American forward Jack Hughes with the first pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
The New York Rangers followed them up by taking Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko with the second pick.
The two players were long considered the first- and second-best prospects available in the draft.
Hughes is from Orlando, Florida, and becomes the eighth American selected No. 1, and first since 2016, when the Toronto Maple Leafs chose Auston Matthews.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound play-making center was the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked North American prospect.
Hughes scored 74 goals and added 154 assists to set the USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s two-year record with 228 points in 110 games.
The Rangers followed by selecting Kakko. He’s a 6-foot-2 winger, who helped Finland complete an international gold-medal sweep at the world championships, world juniors and Under-18 tournament. He had 22 goals the Finnish Elite League, the most by a draft-eligible player.
Former Devils star goalie Martin Brodeur took the podium to announce the No. 1 selection.
Hughes comes from a hockey family. His father, Jim Hughes coached at the professional level, and also served also served as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ director of player development. Jack Hughes credits the time he spent playing minor hockey in Toronto as helping spur his development.
A year ago, Hughes attended the NHL draft to watch his older brother, defenseman Quinn Hughes, be selected with the seventh pick by the Vancouver Canucks.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning cracked a joke this week when asked if Quinn Hughes lobbied to have Vancouver attempt trading up from the 10th pick to first and draft his brother. “Yeah, I had conversations but they didn’t last long,” Benning said. “He’s a great player. I don’t expect him to be there at 10.”
This marked the second time the Devils have selected first. In 2017, New Jersey chose Switzerland’s Nico Hischier, who helped the Devils reach the playoffs in his rookie season. Injuries contributed to New Jersey taking a step back last season in which they finished 29th in the overall standings.
The Devils jumped up three spots in the draft order by winning the lottery in April.
With Hughes expected to make an immediate jump to the NHL next season, he has the potential of providing the Devils an even stronger presence up the middle, joining Hischier and Taylor Hall, the league’s 2018 MVP.
Hughes’ selection was expected to open what should be a banner first-round for USA Hockey’s development team and American-born players overall.