VANCOUVER, British Columbia — 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.
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, bucked a recent trend by making American Spencer Knight just the third goalie chosen in the first round over the past seven years.
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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.
From Orlando, Fla., the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Hughes was the top-ranked North American prospect. The center had 74 goals and 154 assists to set the USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s 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, who had a lengthy dinner with Devils GM Ray Shero during the predraft combine in Buffalo, N.Y., this month. “I’ve said this like eight times already, but I’m pumped to be a Devil and I’m so excited.”
Hughes comes from a hockey family. His father, Jim Hughes, coached at the professional level, and also served as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ director of player development. Jack Hughes credits the time he spent playing minor hockey in Toronto for helping spur his development.
A year ago, Hughes attended the NHL draft to watch his older brother, defenseman Quinn Hughes, be selected with the seventh pick by the Vancouver Canucks.
Kakko is a 6-foot-2 wing 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.
The Chicago Blackhawks, who jumped from 12th in the order to third following the draft lottery, went with size in selecting 6-foot-4 center Kirby Dach out of Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League.
Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic, who grew up in suburban Vancouver, received a big cheer from the crowd before announcing the fourth pick. He then drew an even louder cheer after selecting defenseman Bowen Byram, who played for Vancouver in the WHL.
Yzerman’s decision to select Seider surprised many, including the player himself.
“I’m still shocked,” said Seider, who was the scouting bureau’s sixth-ranked European. “We had a couple of good meetings with Steve Yzerman, and 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.”
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, Seider had two goals and six points in 29 games playing for Mannheim of Germany’s top league, and scored twice in two games at the world championships.
Seider became the seventh German-born player to be selected in the first round. And only two were selected higher, including Leon Draisaitl, who was selected third by Edmonton in 2014.
The Sharks did not have a first-round pick in the draft. That pick, No. 29 overall, was part of last year’s trade for Evander Kane from Buffalo. They will pick in Saturday’s second round, No. 41 overall.
John Wawrow is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Devils-select-US-center-Hughes-with-1st-pick-in-14029903.php.