Buffalo, N.Y. — The fan bases in Detroit and 28 other NHL cities have come to accept it, though it likely still hurts.
Jack Hughes, long the big prize of this NHL Entry Draft, isn’t coming to their town.
Given how the NHL draft lottery turned out, Hughes likely will either wind up in New Jersey (picking No. 1) or the New York Rangers (picking No. 2) with late-charging Kaapo Kakko of Finland going in the other spot.
“We’ll be linked to each other for a lot of years with the Rangers and Devils right there,” Hughes said of the two close geographic and division rivals last week at the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo.
The "Lose-for-Hughes" effort didn’t work for the Red Wings, or a bunch of other teams.
So Hughes, who had 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists) in 50 games with the Plymouth Township-based U.S. National Team Development Program this season, will be tormenting those teams that missed out for the remainder of his NHL career.
It's a career that is likely to be filled with milestones and highlights, given what Hughes has shown in his amateur career.
But there is one particular mission on Hughes’ mind already, as he focuses on the NHL Entry Draft on June 21-22 and his future.
“Winning the Stanley Cup,” Hughes said. “(It’s) the reason every hockey player plays. You dream of lifting that thing over your head since you first start playing hockey. That’s definitely the end goal for me.
“I want to be able to win the Stanley Cup, and be successful in the NHL.”
Jack Hughes, the consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft, talks about the draft, his hockey-playing brothers and the success of his NTDP teammates. The Detroit News
Most scouts feel Hughes should be able to attain that level of success.
Hughes set records in the USNTDP program for career assists (154) and points (228), and had an absurd 2.07 points-per-game average over 110 games and two seasons.
The speed and playmaking ability Hughes has was no match at the junior level. The fact Hughes can play at what looks and feels like warp speed, and maintain control of the puck and effectively make plays, is what makes him a prized prospect.
Hughes’ skill set already was comparable to some of the NHL’s elite when Dan Marr, NHL Central Scouting director, watched a skills camp last summer in Toronto.
“I went to a camp in July in Toronto (last year) and the best three players on the ice were Taylor Hall, Connor McDavid and John Tavares,” Marr said. “The next best player was Jack Hughes.
“It was a series of drills that they were doing that involved skating, quickness, speed, execution, precision. Right away, you could see he (Hughes) already has an NHL shot. So he’s got the talent that he belongs in that group.”
Going back a year or two, it seemed a foregone conclusion Hughes would the first player picked in this draft class. But Kakko has gradually closed the gap, capped by an eye-opening performance at the world junior tournament and men's world championships, where he helped lead Finland to the title.
Hughes and Kakko offer the Devils and Rangers two different styles.
Kakko, at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, is more of a prototypical power forward who has mainly played wing, and had six goals in 10 games at the world championships, lining up against many NHL stars in the tournament.
At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Hughes is more of a dynamic-skating, offensive-machine player that is growing in popularity around the NHL these days.
Hughes represented Team USA, coached by Wings’ coach Jeff Blashill at the world championships, but didn’t get the ice time Kakko received for Finland, given the U.S. team's deep, veteran lineup. Hughes had three assists in the tournament (two in the quarterfinal loss to Russia).
Talking about being the first player picked off the board, by the Devils, Hughes didn’t hesitate about wanting to be the top overall selection in this draft class.
“That would be unbelievable,” Hughes said. “You always dream about being No. 1. You don’t dream about being No. 2 or 3 or 4, when you’re a kid.
“I want to be the first overall pick.That would be a dream come true if that happens.”
Jack Hughes, who was born in Orlando, Fla., would be the eigthth American-born player drafted No. 1 if chosen first by New Jersey in the NHL Entry Draft on June 21. Here are the other U.S. players picked first.
► Brian Lawton, forward, Minnesota North Stars, 1983
► Mike Modano, forward, Minnesota North Stars, 1988
► Bryan Berard, defenseman, Ottawa Senators, 1995
► Rick DiPietro, goalie, New York Islanders, 2000
► Erik Johnson, defenseman, St. Louis Blues, 2006
► Patrick Kane, forward, Chicago Blackhawks, 2007
► Auston Matthews, forward, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2016