If the IIHF World Championship is a last-chance-hotel of sorts for a few lucky youngsters looking to lift their draft stock, Finland’s Kaapo Kakko certainly hasn’t checked out yet.
If anything, he’s given the New Jersey Devils brass a headache leading up to the NHL Draft on June 21.
A good headache, of course.
Jack Hughes, the American prodigy who’s set the USA Hockey National Team Development Program ablaze, has been the consensus No. 1 prospect for most of the year, and the year leading up to this draft, and perhaps sometime before that, too. He’s a special player who, in 50 games this season with the program’s U-18 team, put up 34 goals and 112 points, 20 more at the U-18 world championships and four assists in four games at the world juniors.
Thus, Hughes is rated as the top prospect in North America from NHL Central Scouting, and the top prospect in the world by several pundits. When you average 2.24 points per game, these things come pretty naturally. When you put up 228 points in 110 games with the USNTDP — a 2.28 point-per-game clip — you become one of the best, if not the best, to ever emerge from the program.
Hughes has earned his stripes heading into Vancouver, but has his reputation warded off Kakko’s rise at the Worlds?
Kakko hasn’t exactly flown under the radar. Not at all, but he’s lived in Hughes’ shadow. At least, he did.
While both are playing at Worlds right now, it’s Kakko who’s getting the big minutes playing on a Finnish team that isn’t nearly as star-studded as the U.S. So while Hughes has a lonely assist in the tournament, and has only really featured in spurts, Kakko has launched a full-on assault on the minds of Devils general manager Ray Shero and his scouting staff.