BUFFALO — Jack Hughes, the young American forward who is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft this summer, was calm and polished and definitely looked ready to be the first player selected when he met with reporters Friday afternoon at the NHL Draft Combine.
When he was asked if he thought he would look better in the red of the Devils or the blue of the Rangers, he deftly delivered the perfect answer.
“I think I’d look good in either,’’ he said. “I mean, you know, the teams have seen us play probably 30 times this year. I think I had a great year, and either or, I’d be really happy.’’
The Devils won the first pick in the Draft Lottery and will make their selection on June 21 when the teams assemble in Vancouver. The Rangers got the second pick, and they’ll be happy to take whichever player — Hughes or Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko — the Devils don’t take. Hughes and Kakko are the consensus top two players available.
“We’re excited with the pick we have. Having moved up in the lottery and getting the second pick was exciting for everybody,’’ Rangers assistant general manager Chris Drury said. “Either way, we’re getting a terrific player at 2. It’s a great spot to be in.’’
The Rangers didn’t get a chance to interview Kakko or see him perform at the combine because after winning the World Championships with Finland on Sunday and then celebrating with the team on Monday, the 6-2, 190-pound winger decided to pass on attending. And no one could blame him.
“I know he would be here if he could, but he’s a world champion before he’s even stepped on the ice in the National Hockey League. That’s a pretty special event in his life,’’ said Dan Marr, director of the NHL’s Central Scouting Service. “I think the teams understand that, and the teams at the top, they’re just going to have to spend a little more time with him when he comes over for the draft.’’
Devils general manager Ray Shero, speaking earlier in the week, declined to say which player he intends to take with the first pick, so the Rangers will have to do their due diligence on both players.
Drury was the general manager of the U.S. team for the World Championships. He selected Hughes for the squad and got to know him pretty well during the three weeks they spent together in Slovakia.
The rest of the Rangers’ management team jammed into a room for a 20-minute interview session with him this week that went well, according to Drury.
“I think, at one point, we had 17 people in the room from our organization. It’s a tight space for any of these kids to come in and have all of us firing questions at them in a 20-minute period,’’ he said. “And Jack was great in the interview. It was a good 20 minutes spent with him.’’
As for Kakko, Drury said the Rangers eventually will interview him.
“We’ll see how it plays out between now and the draft, but I’m sure at some point, if we can, we’ll be sitting down with him,’’ Drury said. “Honestly, I didn’t think he was coming anyway. You get that far in that tournament, you win the gold medal Sunday night, I would have been surprised if he did come to Buffalo.’’