The probable top two picks in the 2019 NHL Draft have topped NHL Central Scouting's final rankings lists, which were released Monday.
The Rangers drew the No. 2 pick in the June draft during last week's NHL Draft Lottery, while the Devils came away with the No. 1 pick. Hughes has long been considered the consensus No. 1 selection, but there's been recent talk of Kakko at least closing the gap on Hughes as far as who the top prospect is in this year's draft class after a strong season in the Finnish Liiga.
"Kakko is a two-way player who is dangerous around the net and knows when he has to move the puck quickly and when to be patient," Goran Stubb, the NHL's director of European scouting, told NHL.com. "He's strong on his skates, battles well and could be NHL ready as soon as next season since he played two seasons against men in Liiga."
Kakko, 18, set a new record for goals scored by a U-18 player in a Liiga season with 22 goals in 45 games, breaking the mark set by Panthers star Aleksander Barkov in 2012-13. He netted the game-winning goal for Finland in the gold-medal game of this year's IIHF World Junior Championship, scoring with 1:26 left to take down Hughes and Team USA.
The 17-year-old Hughes has 92 points in 43 games this season for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program. If Hughes goes No. 1, he'd be the eighth U.S.-born player ever to be taken with the top pick in the draft.
"Jack is an elite skater who plays the game at top speed both with and without the puck, he sees the ice tremendously well and finds open space to create scoring chances," Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, told NHL.com. "He has a complete package of skills that suggest he will be a franchise NHL player and game-changer."
Hughes will captain Team USA in the upcoming U-18 World Championship, while Kakko is expected to represent Finland in the senior World Championship next month.