Courtesy of Hertz

Drive to the Net: Hughes, Kakko and being special ☕


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Kaapo Kakko, Thursday in Vancouver. - DEJAN KOVACEVIC / DKPS

VANCOUVER, British Columbia --  There are days to critique and days to celebrate, and I dare say the NHL Draft's first round definitely files under the latter.

It's happened more than once at one of these things that, even as the grinning teenager hears his name called, hugs mom and dad, awkwardly shakes the hand of the agent, then strides up to the stage, the giant scoreboard overhead shows the TV broadcast with a blaring chyron such as LACKS HOCKEY IQ or QUESTIONABLE CHARACTER or LISTENS TO DAVE MATTHEWS BAND or other needlessly derogatory assessments.

There are times for that sort of thing -- no, not DMB, not ever -- and there are times to let the kid have his moment.

This draft that opens here tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern, will do so with two extraordinary kids taken right off the top: Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. And before one of them gets dispatched to Newark, the other to New York, let's simply enjoy a bit of the best from both:

That's Hughes, of course, skating with the U.S. national team in the World Junior Championships this past winter and through pretty much the entirety of the Canadian roster en route to a peanut-butter finish.

Which is fine. It's a fantastic goal on its face.

But what's fun about special players is to isolate on special things they do. And what's special in the above sequence is the last backhand touch Hughes puts on the puck. Go back up and take another look. As he initially takes the pass that's a bit behind him, he smartly reads the landscape ahead, with two left-handed defenders in his way, then tucks his left shoulder and protects the puck accordingly.

And then ... yeah, that's what it looks like: He passes to himself. He touches the puck ever so slightly on that backhand, enough to navigate it away from those swinging sticks, yet puts it in a place where he knows he can recollect quickly ... and then roofs it blocker-side.

Scouts witness stuff like that, then stop wasting their time taking notes.

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