With the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the New Jersey Devils could select one of two young players who have been coined as “generational” talents by analysts and scouts across the league. Making this decision all the more exciting is that the second overall pick in this year’s draft belongs to the Devils’ rivals across the Hudson in the New York Rangers. Playing for rival teams from the start of their careers, Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko will be offered a Sydney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin type of comparison for the rest of their hockey playing lives.
Currently the favorite to be taken by New Jersey is recently turned 18-year-old Jack Hughes of USNDTP. He has been turning heads and setting records since he was 16. He seemed to have the #1 draft spot locked up since the start of this season according to most scouts, but with the performance of other young players he now has some company in the Top 5, and the first overall spot is his to lose. At the 2018 IIHF World U18 tournament, he broke the points record previously held by Ovechkin, earning 32 points in just 14 games. Also averaging 2 points per game, Hughes posted 34 goals and 112 points this year with U.S. National U18 squad and has put himself in a conversation with elite NHL players including Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Connor McDavid.
His peer, Kappo Kakko, is a winger playing in the Finnish Elite League with HC TPS. He has broken the U18 league scoring record previously set by Aleksander Barkov and has dominated a league full of grown men. During his rookie season in this league he scored 22 goals and 38 points in just 45 games. The drawing factor to a player like Kakko is his proven ability against older, more experienced players and his well roundedness on the ice. He brings a combination of size, speed, and scoring, and his vision on the ice is virtually unmatched at his current level of play. Kakko’s stock has also risen because of his NHL readiness; most analysts are very impressed with his ability to compete against bigger, stronger and more experienced players, which makes him more ready to jump right into the NHL next year than most other prospects.
Regardless of whom is picked first in the June 21st draft, both the Devils and the Rangers will be getting a player capable of transforming their organization. The thought of the cross-river rivals getting an elite player is very exciting. Both clubs have had their fair share of struggles in the past few years and this draft could turn things around for them. Because both of these young phenoms will very likely be making their way to rival teams, they will be compared for the entirety of their careers. Regardless of who is picked by each team, the comparison is unlikely to fade. This helps make 2019 one of the most exciting NHL Entry Drafts in a long time.
The first overall selection combined with rounds 2-7 of the NHL draft could prove to be huge for the Devils and their plans for this off season. After the first overall pick, the Devils also own three second-round picks and two third-round picks. With all of the draft stock surrounding the team this year, the Devils have a lot of leverage to make big moves before, during, or after the draft. Combine this with their large cap space and current roster, it’s an exciting time to be a Devils fan.
Looking at their current lineup containing two first overall picks in Nico Hischier (2017, NJD) and Taylor Hall (2010, EDM), the team has a strong young core, seasoned with experienced veterans. Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac are still performing at a high level and should continue to do so while also paving the way for younger, somewhat established players already on the roster. This includes players like Pavel Zacha, Blake Coleman and Jesper Bratt and those are all just the offensive side of the roster.
Veteran defenseman like Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen have led the way for younger guys like Will Butcher. Damon Severson has been consistent and solid on the blue line and has put in a good performance for Team Canada at the World Championships so far. Looking at their defensive future, New Jersey has some great prospects coming through, including Jeremy Davies and recent WHL Defenseman of the Year Ty Smith. With the Devils current roster and prospect pipeline, there is good reason for fans to get excited.
Additionally, the nearly $36 million in cap space allows the Devils to shop the market for some of the top unrestricted free agents this season while also leaving the option open for an offer sheet if they are willing to give away some draft picks in consecutive years.
With all the options available to the Devils in terms of draft possibility, cap space, and current roster status including prospects, this summer could be a turning point for this organization. Following the struggles in Newark during the past few seasons, it will be very exciting to see what direction this organization will take during the summer.