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Jack Hughes vs Kaapo Kakko has been a constant topic of conversation for a while, and the debate is only getting more heated with a) the draft quickly approaching and; b) both players currently representing their countries in the same tournament.
I get asked about the two on a daily basis, with the frequency seemingly increasing every single time either of the two makes a quality play.
I have many thoughts, so allow me to clear the air:
• I tweeted this Friday, but I'll say it again to really hammer the point home: there is every reason to believe both players will be stars at their positions. Not quality players – stars.
Jack Hughes possesses elite skating ability, vision, creativity, and looks dynamic every time he touches the puck. Few players can create something out of nothing the way he can.
Kaapo Kakko isn't as flashy but he is also extremely effective. His mix of finesse, power, balance, and smarts allow him to make meaningful contributions in every zone and game state, as he showed time and time again while playing a key role for his team in Finland's top league.
Both the Devils and Rangers will be extremely lucky to get one of these players.
• As much as people like to make rankings cut and dry, I don't think that is the case here. Anyone with over-the-top strong takes such as 'we will riot if the Devils pass on Hughes' or 'lmao the Devils are going to pick 1st and still let the better player go to their rivals' is misguided. Simply put, I just don't think there is *that* much separating the two. That's just reality when the '2nd' option was a near point-per-game player, and team-leading goal scorer, in a quality pro league.
• I am confident saying Hughes will go 1st overall. He is the consensus No. 1, which I am on board with, and he plays arguably the sport's most valuable position. Hughes' USA program ties, not to mention Ray Shero's relationship with his father, are a nice little cherry on top. I am almost certain he will go 1st. I am less certain he will be the better player. Again, he could be. I *think* he will be. But I see enough from Kakko that I would not be surprised if he ends up being better.
• Put another way, my stance on the debate is this: I would have been more disappointed had the Devils selected Nolan Patrick over Nico Hischier than I would be if the Devils select Kaapo Kakko over Jack Hughes (though, again, I think that is unlikely).
I know Patrick was the consensus No. 1 for years but, after I watched a ton of tape and thoroughly combed through data, I was fully on #TeamNico. I loved the speed, the skill, the neutral zone play, and the dynamic ability. Patrick was very promising as well but the thing you really noticed was how polished he was, not how high-end the skill was. I don't have those concerns about Kakko at all.
• So it doesn't seem like I am fence sitting, I will once again point out I would take Hughes 1st overall. The Devils need more speed, skill, and dynamic offensive ability and Hughes will deliver just that. He also plays a premium position, one the Devils could use some help in. If they pass on a golden opportunity to add another 1st line caliber center in Hughes, that will remain an area of concern. Nico is a beast but Travis Zajac is a 3C at this point, Pavel Zacha and Michael McLeod may never be anything more than that, and Jesper Boqvist might be best suited at left wing. If that's the case, the Devils will have a noticeable hole at 2C. If they draft Hughes, they'll have a 1C at, well, 1C, and a 1C at 2C for at least a decade. Considering the importance of the position that's pretty damn attractive.
Devils contract projections (and thoughts!)
On the Devils' need for another top-6 forward and avoiding Pouliot
Jordan Eberle should not be a top target for the Devils
Get excited about Ty Smith
Jack Hughes to join Team USA at Worlds
Jack Hughes changes everything
Don't sleep on Jesper Boqvist
The Devils should target Jason Zucker
The Kaapo Kakko blog™
The Jack Hughes blog™