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2019 NHL Draft Profile: The Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko experience is upon us

Get used to seeing these names, Flyers fans.

United States v Great Britain: Group A - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Slovakia Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

Two years ago the Flyers were fortunate enough to see the ping pong balls fall their way and vault up the draft to select No. 2 overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The prize ended up being Nolan Patrick, and while the jury is still out on the center after his second NHL season, the Flyers’ pivot is likely to be linked to the following names for the better part of the next decade.

Those names are of course: Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, who will be selected with the first and second overall picks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The connection with the Flyers and Patrick will be that the first two teams picking will be the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers.

Le sigh.

These two dynamic young talents won’t be Flyers, and that’s sad, so let’s see just what we’ll be dealing with here for the seasons to come —or until Hughes forces his way out of New Jersey like everyone else.

First up is the Devils’ likely selection: Hughes.

2019 NHL Draft Profile: Jack Hughes

Center / USA / NTDP (USHL)
2018-19 Statistics: 34 G, 78 A in 50 GP
Size: 5-foot-10, 171 pounds

Pre-draft rankings

No. 1 (NA/Euro Skaters/Goalies) by NHL Central Scouting
No. 1 by Future Considerations
No. 1 by ISS Hockey

What’s there to like?

There’s a ton to like about Hughes, a fast and skilled pivot with game-changing ability. Hughes comes from a talented hockey family is the best of the bunch, possessing elite offensive skill that should allow him to have an immediate impact at the NHL level for his new club.

Hughes is phenomenal on the puck, keeps it on a string and has tremendous vision, hockey sense, and scoring touch. There’s a reason that he’s been pegged as a top overall pick since he was 16 years old, he’s just that good. He’s the prototypical modern NHL playmaking center, and a franchise changing talent.

What’s not to like?

He doesn’t have the biggest frame at 5-foot-10 and 171 pounds, but he more than makes up for it everywhere else. Plenty of guys his size have been impact players at superstar levels in the NHL and he’ll be no different. Add in the fact that he’s going to put more weight and muscle on as a pro and he’ll be just fine.

There’s also the question of his 200-foot game, something that often comes into question with 18-year-olds. Hughes is a stone-cold stud offensively, but handling things at the other end as a center could be a struggle early especially given his size. Bigger centers will play heavy on him and try and limit his game that way, but the fact is that Hughes will likely be picking their pocket and heading the other way in most cases.

How would he fit in the Flyers’ system?

Hughes would sure look great in the Flyers’ system, but there’s a zero percent chance of that happening and that really stinks because he’s exactly the type of player they could really use. Sure, every team could use a Jack Hughes, but the Flyers need to add both speed and scoring, two things that Hughes will provide from the get go.

He’s basically everything that the Flyers hope that Patrick will eventually turn out to be. Hughes would immediately become the Flyers’ best player in the system and form a ridiculous one-two combo with Sean Couturier down the middle for years to come.

Could the Flyers actually get him?

Absolutely not, but it’s fun to dream.

Next up is the dominating Fin: Kaapo Kakko.

In most other years, Kakko would be the slam-dunk No. 1 overall selection, much like the 2016 draft year with Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. The similarities end there though, as all four players are vastly different stylistically despite being franchise altering talents.

Kakko isn’t a true sniper like his fellow countrymen Laine, but is a well-rounded force in all three zones who should enjoy a long NHL career as a dynamic winger. But don’t let the fact that he doesn’t have the wicked release of Laine mean he doesn’t fill up the net as he bested Aleksander Barkov’s record for goals by a draft-eligible player in Finland’s top league this past season with 22 goals.

He did it on the international stage, too. Kakko earned Gold at 2019 IIHF World Juniors after posting five points in seven games, and didn’t stop there with six goals in 10 games as Finland took home Gold at the 2019 World Championships as well.

Kakko proved himself to be an elite talent on every stage possible in 2018-19, and was impressive just about every time he touched the ice.

2019 NHL Draft Profile: Kaapo Kakko

Right Wing / TPS / Finland
2018-19 Statistics: 22 G, 16 A in 45 GP
Size: 6-foot-2, 194 pounds

Pre-draft rankings

No. 2 (NA/Euro Skaters/Goalies) by NHL Central Scouting
No. 2 by Future Considerations
No. 2 by ISS Hockey

What’s there to like?

Kakko is a straight beast on the puck, using his size and balance to control and shield the puck from defenders and then use his hockey IQ and skill set to create offense for both himself and his teammates. Not only was he able to assert his dominance against those his own age, he more than held his own in Finland’s top league and then again against older players at World Championships.

He’s incredibly difficult to knock off the puck and —like Hughes— thinks the game at a very high level, often finding teammates that he should have had no business seeing. Not only is he a load to handle, but his high-end skill set will have you fishing the puck out of the back of your net plenty.

He’ll remind a lot of people of Barkov, who sent second overall in his draft year as well, and could very well have the same type of impact at the NHL level though he’s probably a bit further along offensively at this stage than Barkov was when he was coming out.

What’s not to like?

Though he’s dynamic offensively in his own right, he doesn’t do it the same way that Hughes does and perhaps with the NHL opening up more and more each year it’s possible that he doesn’t turn out to be an elite offensive contributor since best work is done wearing on opponents and below the goal line. He’s also not the most explosive skater, but he knows his game and uses his body to his advantage elsewhere.

Like with Hughes, picking out things that we don’t like about Kakko is pretty darn hard.

How would he fit in the Flyers’ system?

As with Hughes, the Flyers don’t currently have anyone quite as good or young as Kakko, but they do have someone at the NHL level who profiles a bit like him. That would be Oskar Lindblom, who figures to vie for top-six minutes this season and similarly uses his frame and physicality to create offense. While Lindblom could prove to be a nice find in the fifth round for the Flyers, there’s no doubt he’s not at the level of Kakko.

The Flyers could slot Kakko into their top-nine without blinking this season and at the very worst expect similar numbers to Lindblom. Only Kakko has more offensive upside and has proven to be a force against all competition while Lindblom has only shown flashes early in his career.

Could the Flyers actually get him?

Again no, but not because Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher isn’t going to be aggressive to try and improve the roster, but because the Rangers are picking second and there’s no shot in hell that they’d trade the pick to the Flyers.

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