VANCOUVER — Jack Hughes was selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils in the NHL draft on Friday night.
The flashy centre put up a record 154 assists and 228 points over two seasons with the under-18 U.S. National Team Development Program.
The Devils had the third-best odds of winning the draft lottery back in April, but jumped two spots for the right to draft Hughes.
"Obviously going first overall was a dream of mine," Hughes said. "But the Devils are a great organization, a great team, lots of good players, a pretty rich history, too. It’s a spot that really wanted me, I knew that from the get go.
"I’m just excited to play with the organization now."
The 18-year-old joins a team that already boasts fellow former No. 1 picks Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier up front. New Jersey made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons in 2017-18, but is coming off a last-place finish in the Metropolitan Division at 31-41-10.
Hughes said he didn’t really feel nervous until just before his name was called.
"I’m a pretty calm kid. The only time I really got nervous was when Gary (Bettman) was talking up there for two minutes or so. That’s the only time I got nervous," he said. "It’s been a hectic day."
The New York Rangers then stepped up to the podium to snag Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko with the second selection. Kakko, also 18, scored 22 goals — a record for a draft-eligible prospect — and added 16 assists in his country’s top division in 2018-19.
"It was my dream to be No. 1, but the second (pick) is also good," said Kakko. "I’m happy."
Hughes was born in Orlando, Fla., but spent his formative years in the Toronto area when his father, Jim, worked for the Maple Leafs.
The younger Hughes, who registered 112 points in 50 games with the USNTDP in 2018-19, is the eighth American-born player to go No. 1 and the first since Toronto took Auston Matthews in 2016.
He’s also just the second USNTDP player to be drafted No. 1 directly out of the program after the St. Louis Blues took defenceman Erik Johnson first overall in 2006.
The five-foot-10, 170-pound playmaker is the younger brother of Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes, who was selected seventh last June in Dallas.
The 228 points Hughes scored over his two seasons with the USNTDP smashed Clayton Keller’s previous mark of 189 (71 goals, 118 assists).