2019 World Junior Championship: Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko are top NHL draft prospects to watch

The two forwards are projected to be the top picks in next year’s draft.

The World Junior Championship under-20 tournament, which begins Wednesday in British Columbia, is a time to watch the best young players in the world compete against each other on the international stage. For many fans, it’s the first time they’ll be able to watch players on TV that they’ve heard or read about within their favorite NHL team’s organization or that they want to see them draft next year.

The Blackhawks currently have 32 points and sit in 29th place in the 31-team NHL just two games shy of the midway point this season. Chicago appears destined to be in contention for the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft for the first time since 2007.

Here are the top two players eligible for next year’s draft that will be participating in this year’s World Juniors tournament:

Jack Hughes (United States)

Club team: U.S. National Team Development Program

Position: Center

Shoots: Left

Size: 5-foot-10, 168 pounds

Stats: 10G, 28A in 25GP

Hughes is the runaway candidate to be the top overall pick in next June’s draft. The 17-year-old has elite speed, fantastic stick-handling skills and great vision to create chances not only for himself but his teammates as well. He’s already racked up some accolades for Team USA as he was named the under-18 World Juniors MVP last year after scoring the most points (12) in the tournament in the Americans’ silver-medal run.

Hughes will share the spotlight on Team USA with his older brother, Quinn, who is a freshman defenseman at the University of Michigan after being drafted No. 7 overall by the Canucks last June.

Makes you think.

Kaapo Kakko (Finland)

Club team: TPS (Liiga)

Position: Right wing

Shoots: Left

Size: 6-foot-1, 181 pounds

Stats: 9G, 11A in 27GP

Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko have been pegged as the Nos. 1 and 2 picks, respectively. Kakko, however, has a bigger build and is playing in Finland’s top division against men. As a 16-year-old, the Finnish winger played six games with Liiga’s TPS, but spent the majority of the season in the junior league where he racked up 25 goals and 55 points in only 38 games. Now, he’s playing in Liiga and showing he’s an elite player that displays creative playmaking.

Kakko scored four goals and 10 points in seven games to lift Finland to gold at last year’s U18 World Juniors. For his efforts, he was named one of the team’s top three players in the tournament.