VANCOUVER – American center Jack Hughes and Finland’s Kaapo Kakko being selected with the first two picks in the NHL draft was hardly a surprise.
The New Jersey Devils opened the draft Friday by making Hughes the eighth American chosen with the No. 1 pick. And the New York Rangers, as expected, selected Kakko, the top-ranked European prospect.
It’s the unpredictability that followed that provided the intrigue.
Steve Yzerman began placing his stamp on the Red Wings upon his return to Detroit as general manager. He selected German defenseman Moritz Seider with the sixth pick ahead of a number of players who were ranked much higher by NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.
“I’m still shocked,” said Seider, who was the scouting bureau’s sixth-ranked European. “Yzerman wanted to know every single thing about me. But we saw a couple of rankings and I wasn’t that high on any of them. It’s an unreal moment.”
Two Swedish defensemen were selected among the top 11 players, with Philip Broberg chosen by Edmonton, and the Arizona Coyotes giving up a second-round pick to Philadelphia in trading up three spots to select Victor Soderstrom at 11.
And the Florida Panthers, at 13, made American Spencer Knight just the third goalie chosen in the first round over the past seven years.
Hughes was the top-ranked North American skater and became the first American to go first since 2016, when the Toronto Maple Leafs chose Auston Matthews.
The 5-10, 170-pound playmaking center from Orlando was the top-ranked North American prospect. He had 74 goals and 154 assists while setting the USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s (NTDP) two-year record with 228 points in 110 games.
“Obviously, Kaapo Kakko had a great year ... but I was pretty confident and pretty calm, cool collected through the whole process,” said Hughes. “I’ve said this like eight times already, but I’m pumped to be a Devil.”
Kakko is a 6-2 winger who helped Finland complete an international gold-medal sweep at the world championships, world juniors and Under-18 tournament. He had 22 goals in the Finnish Elite League, the most by a draft-eligible player.
Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic, who grew up in suburban Vancouver, received a big cheer before announcing the fourth pick. He then drew an even louder cheer after selecting defenseman Bowen Byram, who played for Vancouver in the Western Hockey League.
Three NTDP players went in the top 10, Alex Turcotte with the fifth pick by Los Angeles and Trevor Zegras No. 9 to Anaheim.