As the first two picks of the 2019 NHL Draft, the careers of Jack Hughes of the Devils and Kaapo Kakko of the Rangers figure to be forever linked.
New Jersey only ratcheted up the recently dormant rivalry with their Manhattan counterparts further Saturday by pulling off a blockbuster trade for Norris Trophy-winning defenseman P.K. Subban, countering the Rangers big addition on the blue line earlier this month, the acquisition of first-pair defenseman Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg.
While free agency looms in July, the transformational addition of the Blueshirts' summer haul so far clearly was the Finnish-bred Kakko, the slam-dunk No.2 selection after the Devils unsurprisingly opened the draft by grabbing Hughes, the 18-year-old American projected franchise center, with the top pick.
"I would love to see him be a cornerstone for us. He's got that…there's something special about this (player)," Rangers president John Davidson told reporters in Vancouver about Kakko. "He has a chance to be really, really, really good.
"But I don't want to sit here and say that he's gotta to be the best we've ever had in New York in the history of the Rangers. You don't do that to young people, you let them come in there and he's gonna show his way. He's going to be a really really good player. I get excited about everything that he does."
Davidson also is excited about the potential rivalry between Hughes and Kakko for years to come in the metropolitan area and the Metropolitan Division.
"You know, that's true," J.D. said. "I was thinking about that…And how good is that? Rivalries across the river. It's going to be talked about for a long, long, long time. I think that's just the greatest. It's fantastic. I think that's what hockey needs."
The Rangers certainly still have needs to fill, and they could pursue Columbus winger Artemi Panarin when the free-agent market opens for business on July 1. To do so, GM Jeff Gorton might have to move a sizable contract, such as forward Chris Kreider or defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
The 30-year-old Shattenkirk, who grew up in nearby New Rochelle, has two years remaining on his 2017 free-agent deal at a $6.65 million annual salary cap hit. He posted disappointing numbers -- two goals, 28 points and a minus-15 rating - in 73 games in 2018-19.
"I think I want this to work out more than anyone," Shattenkirk told Newsday on Saturday at a charity appearance in New York. "I want to know what it's like to win in New York and bring a championship here. It's been a dream of mine since I was a kid and it still is."
Among their seven post-Kakko picks in this weekend's draft, the Rangers selected four additional forwards and three defensemen, including one of each in the second round: 6-3 blueliner Matthew Robertson of WHL Edmonton with the 49th overall pick and 5-9 Swedish center Karl Henriksson of Frolunda nine picks later.
"Unfortunately in seven rounds we can't get seven Kakkos. We know that," Gorton told reporters in Vancouver. "But, listen, each time we're dialed in on a player, we felt good where we took them.
"Our table is excited, and maybe the buzz isn't there like it was in the first round. But we really feel like we got some skill, some size, some skating. A little bit of everything."
RANGERS 2019 draft picks
ROUND 1, No. 2 overall
Kaapo Kakko, RW, 18, TPS (Finland), 6-3, 190
ROUND 2, No. 49 overall (via Dallas)
Matthew Robertson, D, 18, Edmonton (WHL), 6-3, 200
ROUND 2, No. 58 overall (via Tampa Bay)
Karl Henriksson, C, 18, Frolunda (Sweden), 5-9, 174,
ROUND 3, No. 68 overall
Zachary Jones, D, 18, Tri-City (USHL), 5-10, 172
ROUND 4, No. 112 overall (via Columbus)
Hunter Skinner, D, 18, Lincoln (USHL), 6-3, 174
ROUND 5, No. 130 overall
Leevi Aaltonen, LW, 18, KalPa (Finland), 5-9, 170
ROUND 6, No. 161 overall
Adam Edstrom, LW, 18, Mora IK (Sweden), 6-4, 207
ROUND 7, No. 205 overall (via Columbus)
Eric Ciccolini, RW, 18, Toronto (OJHL), 6-0, 170