The pick was announced by Devils Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, who was taken in the 1990 draft in Vancouver.
Hughes joins his brother Quinn, a rookie defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks, in the NHL. The Hughes brothers join the Tkachuks (Matthew and Brady) as the only pair of brothers selected in the top 10 of the draft, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
Like Matthews, Hughes is a product of the USA Hockey National Development Program. He holds that program’s records for career points (154) and goals (228). He represented the U.S. four times in international competition, most recently at the IIHF world championships.
At 5-foot-10, there have been questions about Hughes’ size and how his speedy, playmaking game will transfer to the NHL level. His game has drawn comparisons to that of another American player who went first overall, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I feel like when smaller players come into the league and they have that kind of offensive game, it seems to be easy to compare him to a guy like me. But I think he does a lot of things better than I do, to be honest with you,” Kane told ESPN at the Winter Classic. “I love the way he’s always moving. He’s always skating. Even if he’s not near the puck or near the action, he’s still got his speed. He’s coming into the zone with a lot of movement and speed to his game. Seems like an off-the-charts skater. Seems like he’s going to have a good career.”
Hughes played with Kane at the world championships, and he was humbled by the praise.
“At first, your reaction is, ‘You’re lying, man.’ He’s a guy that has [Stanley] Cups, Hart Trophies, Art Rosses. You name it, he’s got it. For him to be talking about me like that … it’s really nice,” Hughes said.
The Blackhawks were one of the final three teams with a shot at drafting Hughes, the most coveted player in this year’s draft; fans used the phrase “Lose For Hughes” to describe their teams’ attempts at tanking for better lottery odds.
Chicago, New Jersey and the New York Rangers were the final three teams in the lottery. The Devils had the third-best odds to win the lottery (11.5 percent), and they won it for the second time in three seasons. They drafted Swiss center Nico Hischier in 2017 at No. 1 overall.
Devils general manager Ray Shero called Hughes’ selection “a special day for our franchise.”
The Rangers, who had the sixth-best chance (7.5 percent) at the first overall pick, moved up to No. 2 overall. Effectively, the Devils determined whom their archrivals would select — either Hughes or Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko, the two prized players in the draft.
“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 Shero during the pre-draft combine in Buffalo this month. “I’ve said this like eight times already, but I’m pumped to be a Devil and I’m so excited.”
The Rangers followed the Hughes selection by drafting Kakko, a 6-foot-2 winger who helped Finland complete an international gold-medal sweep at the world championships, world juniors and under-18 tournament. He had 22 goals the Finnish Elite League, the most by a draft-eligible player.
The Blackhawks went with size in selecting 6-foot-4 center Kirby Dach out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Colorado Avalanche general manager 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 of the Western Hockey League.
The Los Angeles Kings rounded out the top five by selecting American center Alex Turcotte.
The Detroit Red Wings‘ selection of German defenseman Moritz Seider at No. 6 was the surprise of the draft. The 18-year-old figured he would land somewhere between Nos. 15 and 20. Instead, he went sixth overall.
“I was just shocked. My hands are shaking. My legs are still shaking,” he said, adding that Detroit GM Steve Yzerman told him to be calm and enjoy the moment because “I was so sweaty.”
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.
With the seventh pick, the Buffalo Sabres selected center Dylan Cozens, who became just the third player born in Canada’s Yukon Territory ever drafted — and the first in the first round. Cozens showed such ability he was playing against adults as a 13-year-old in Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse.
“It always felt like a far reach to me, not really achievable,” Cozens said of being drafted. But I believed it, I believed in myself that I could make this happen one day and now that it’s here it’s a crazy feeling.”
Next to draft were the Edmonton Oilers, who selected 6-foot-3 defenseman Philip Broberg at No. 8.
With the ninth selection, the Anaheim Ducks took center Trevor Zegras.
The host Canucks concluded the top 10 picks by drafting right wing Vasili Podkolzin.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.