VANCOUVER – Center Jack Hughes was the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Draft on Friday night — and just the start of a record-setting evening for the United States National Development Team.
Led by Hughes, an 18-year-old who was selected by the New Jersey Devils, the USNDT had eight players picked in the first round — the most first-rounders ever selected from one team. Four of the picks were in the top 12, which made the USNDT the first team to yield four picks in the top 12 since 1972, when the Toronto Marlboros had four picks among the top 11.
After Hughes, center Alex Turcotte was chosen fifth by the Los Angeles Kings, and forward Trevor Zegras went ninth to the Anaheim Ducks.
The USNDT had four players in a row selected beginning with left winger Matthew Boldy (12th to the Minnesota Wild), who was followed by goalie Spencer Knight (13th to the Florida Panthers), defenseman Cam York (14th to the Philadelphia Flyers) and right winger Cole Caufield (15th to the Montreal Canadiens), the latter of whom was viewed by many as the steal of the draft.
Caufield stands just 5-foot-7 but scored 72 goals last season for the USNDT.
The record-setting night for the USNDT ended with center John Beecher going 30th to the Boston Bruins. The first round concluded with a ninth American pick when the Buffalo Sabres selected defenseman Ryan Johnson, who played for Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League, with the 31st pick.
The nine Americans selected in the first round were the fifth most of all time. A dozen Americans were picked in the first round in 2016 while 11 were picked in 2010 and 10 apiece in 2006 and 2007, according to USA Hockey.
The draft began with the writing of the first words in the latest chapter in one of the NHL’s biggest regional rivalries. After the Devils picked Hughes, the New York Rangers followed by selecting Finnish left winger Kaapo Kakko with the second overall pick.
Hughes, who was born in Orlando, Fla., and is 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, captained the U.S. national under-18 team during the 2018-19 season and collected 112 points in 50 games. He cemented his status as the top prospect in the draft during the International Ice Hockey Federation World Under 18 Championships in April, when Hughes led all players with 20 points.
“I’m so fired up, man, I’m so pumped up to be a Devil now,” Hughes told NBC Sports Network. “Great people, great organization. I’m just so happy to be a part of the Devils organization.”
Hughes is the eighth American-born player selected with the first pick in the draft and the fifth since 2000. He joins Rick DiPietro (2000), Erik Johnson (2006), Patrick Kane (2007) and Auston Matthews (2016).
The Rangers wasted no time selecting Kakko, who broke Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov’s record by scoring 22 goals during his under-18 tenure in the Finnish Elite League.
“It’s a game-changer, there’s no question about it,” Rangers president John Davidson told NBC Sports Network. “Tremendous talent, a really good kid, really grounded, calm about everything. I can hardly wait to see the fans in Madison Square Garden watch this kid just grow right before their eyes.”
The Chicago Blackhawks, picking third, selected Canadian center Kirby Dach. The Colorado Avalanche followed by selecting Canadian defenseman Bowen Byram, after which the Kings took Turcotte.
German defenseman Moritz Seider (Detroit Red Wings), Canadian center Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres), Swedish defenseman Philip Broberg (Edmonton Oilers), Zegras Ducks) and Russian right winger Vasily Podkolzin (Vancouver Canucks) rounded out the top 10.
–Field Level Media