Somewhat lost in the Jack Hughes NHL Draft hoopla last Friday, with Hughes becoming just the 8th American to be picked No 1 overall, is the fact the new records were set for US hockey. Seven of the first 15 selections in the first round of this year’s NHL Draft were Americans.
- #1 Jack Hughes – Center – New Jersey Devils
- #5 Alex Turcotte – Center – Los Angeles Kings
- #9 Trevor Zegras – Center – Anaheim Ducks
- #12 Matthew Boldy – Left Wing – Minnesota Wild
- #13 Spencer Knight – Goaltender – Florida Panthers
- #14 Cameron York – Defenseman – Philadelphia Flyers
- #15 Cole Caulfield – Right Wing – Montreal Canadiens
With John Beecher’s selection by the Boston Bruins late in the first round (pick #30), a total of eight players were selected from the USA’s National Team Development Program. This shatters an NHL Draft record for players to be taken from a single team in the first round of the same NHL draft.
Consider how far US Hockey has come in the last 50 years. In the 1968 NHL Draft, Curt Bennett became the first American ever chosen in the first round by the St Louis Blues with the #16th pick. And just 36 years ago, Brian Lawton became the first ever American taken No 1 overall in the 1983 NHL Draft.
I monitored the early 2019 NHL draft reports last fall and knew the US was sitting on a real goldmine of a draft class. A class that was headlined by young star Jack Hughes who has drawn comparisons to Sidney Crosby. My curiosity got the best of me, so I made a point to travel to Omaha last November to see this group of talented Americans play for the US NTDP vs the Omaha Lancers.
Overall, I was really impressed by skating ability and skill this core group had. Jack Hughes didn’t have one of his best games on the stat sheet, but I saw why he was the projected #1 pick in the draft at that time. He can skate and has excellent puck-handling and passing ability. He can cycle the puck and buy time to look for better scoring opportunities due to his creativness.
The player who impressed me the most in this game, however, was Trevor Zegras. I think Zegras was the steal in this draft taken with the 9th overall pick by Anaheim in the first round. He’s a bit undersized like Hughes but a dynamic player who will score at the next level. He’ll have to sharpen his puckhandling to be a first line Center in the NHL.
Yet another player who impressed me, who I think may prove to be another steal in this draft, was Cole Caulfield. He was taken with the #15 pick overall in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens. He’s undersized at 5’7″ but think Theo Fleury or Alex DeBrincat here. Caulfield is fast, elusive and can find the back of the net. He played 99 games this year for the US National team and scored 115 goals.
If NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman desires to further grow the sport in the US, he had better be planning on shutting down the NHL again for the Olympics in the future to capitalize on this core group of talented Americans.