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2019 N.H.L. Draft: Devils Take Jack Hughes at No. 1, and the Rangers Pick Kaapo Kakko

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko can’t escape each other, even though they come from opposite sides of the hockey world.

This pair of 18-year-olds — Hughes, who was born in Florida and now lives in Michigan, and Kakko, a native of Turku, Finland — have shared space at the top of most N.H.L. draft ranking lists for the past year. Now they will enter the league on teams separated by the Hudson River, just 13 miles apart.

As expected, the Devils selected Hughes first in the draft on Friday, and the Rangers used the second pick to take Kakko.

Both teams were set up for these prizes at the draft lottery in April. After finishing 29th in the N.H.L. standings last season, the Devils won the first pick for the second time in three years. The Rangers finished 26th, and Kakko is their first top-five pick in two decades, since Pavel Brendl was chosen fourth in 1999.

At the start of the draft, Devils General Manager Ray Shero built suspense by taking his time before introducing Martin Brodeur, the former Devil and Hockey Hall of Famer, to call Hughes’s name.

“The only time I really got nervous was when Ray was talking up there for two minutes or so,” Hughes said of waiting for Brodeur. “To hear him call my name was pretty special.”

Though Kakko and Hughes were often paired at the top of rankings by scouting services and the news media, the first pick was no surprise. Hughes invariably was rated just a bit higher.

He is the product of a hockey family. His father, Jim, and his mother, Ellen, played the game, and Jim has continued to work in hockey in coaching and player development positions. His older brother, Quinn, 19, was drafted seventh by the Vancouver Canucks in 2018, and his younger brother, Luke, 15, will join the national team program in the fall.

ImageKaapo Kakko after scoring for Finland against Slovakia in the world championships last month.CreditPetr David Josek/Associated Press

The family’s connections in the hockey world have allowed Hughes to build relationships in the N.H.L. well ahead of his arrival in the league. His new general manager, Shero, once worked as his father’s agent.

Hughes has also had an opportunity to skate with many N.H.L. players, including Taylor Hall, one of his new teammates.

“I know him a little bit through training with him, texted a little bit,” Hughes, a center, said of Hall, who won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in 2018. “I’m excited to be on his team.”

The Rangers are equally excited about adding Kakko, who set a record for goals by a draft-eligible prospect in Finland’s top league last season. In international play, he became the first player to win gold at the world under-18 tournament, the world junior championship and the world championship before being drafted.

“I can hardly wait to see the fans at Madison Square Garden watch this kid grow before their eyes,” the Rangers team president, John Davidson, said. “It’s going to be marvelous.”

“I was a little bit nervous before this, but now I’m so excited,” said Kakko, who will soon visit New York for the first time in his life. “It was my dream to be No. 1, but of course, the second one is also good. I’m happy.”

Kakko, a wing, is the fourth Finn in the last four years to be among the top three choices in the draft, following Jesperi Kotkaniemi (No. 3 in 2018), Miro Heiskanen (No. 3 in 2017) and Patrik Laine (No. 2 in 2016).

Hughes is the eighth American ever to become the No. 1 pick in the N.H.L. and the fifth from the United States national team development program. After setting a program record with 228 career points over two seasons, he hopes to be the first player to step directly from the national development program into the N.H.L.

“That’s my goal,” Hughes said. “I want to be the first player to kind of break a barrier there, that you can go from the program to playing in the N.H.L. the following year.”

With the 23rd pick, the Islanders selected right wing Simon Holmstrom from Sweden. Rounds two through seven of the draft will continue Saturday in Vancouver.

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