VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Jack Hughes admits he’s a “confident kid,” so there weren’t many nerves on his part in the hours before he was selected first overall by the Devils at the NHL Draft on Friday night at Rogers Arena.
Except for one moment, courtesy of general manager Ray Shero’s somewhat long-winded speech before announcing that Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur would reveal the first pick.
“I’m a pretty calm kid,” said Hughes, who was born in Orlando, Florida, and starred for the U.S. team development program under-18 squad. “The only time I really got nervous was when Ray was talking up there for around two minutes.”
The first two picks in the NHL Draft went as expected, with the Rangers selecting Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko after Hughes.
“The Metropolitan Division just keeps getting better and better,” said Islanders center Mathew Barzal, who is from nearby Coquitlam, British Columbia, and sat at his team’s draft table. “It’ll be fun, though. There’s a lot of hype around both of those guys and it will be fun competing against them for a while.”
Hughes was one of eight players from the U.S. under-18 squad picked in the first round, including seven of the first 15. The Panthers picked goalie Spencer Knight from the team at No. 13, making him the netminder selected highest in the draft since the Stars took Jack Campbell 11th in 2010.
The night’s only trade had the Flyers sending the 11th pick to the Coyotes for Nos. 14 and 45.
The Blackhawks picked center Kirby Dach out of the Western Hockey League with the third selection, the Avalanche took defenseman Bowen Byram, who is playing his junior hockey in Vancouver, at No. 4 and the Kings rounded out the top five by picking Hughes’ U.S. under-18 teammate, center Alex Turcotte.
Hughes had 12 goals and 36 assists in 24 USHL games for the under-18 squad and also played a limited role alongside NHL players for Team USA in the World Championships last month in Slovakia.
Kakko stood out in that tournament.
Hughes, who said he is “excited” to join the Devils, had been considered the consensus No. 1 pick all season.
“I’m a pretty confident kid,” said Hughes, whose brother Quinn is a Canucks defenseman. “Kakko had a great year and there are a lot of great players in this draft. It’s a surreal feeling.”