The Hughes-Kakko Rivalry is the NHL version of Barkley-Darnold
By Lenn Robbins
We’d like to thank the hockey Gods, and the Rangers and Devils, for giving us the NHL version of what the NFL has in the Jets and Giants: Two young talents that will have reporters and fan bases debating for the next 10 years as to who made the right pick in their respective drafts.
Recall the 2018 NFL Draft. The Giants, with the No.2 pick, chose Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. They went with the best available player philosophy. And after Barkley’s rookie season, in which he exploded as one of the league’s best backs, it’s hard to argue that pick.
Of course, some Giants fans did just that.
They wanted the heir to Eli Manning. And USC’s Sam Darnold was available. Not even the Jets could screw up this pick. They took the quarterback, the most important position the game.
Darnold took his lumps, as almost all rookies do. But he never got unhinged, always seemed unflappable, and the Jets seemingly have a franchise QB. Wake the echoes, Joe Namath.
The debate was born. Should the Giants have taken the prospect that plays the most important position or should they have taken the best available player that was ready to help win games immediately?
Many Giants fans believe they made the right call. Barkley had 1,307 yards rushing, 721 yards receiving, scored 16 touchdowns and won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The Giants stunned their fan base (and the rest of the league) by taking Duke QB Daniel Jones with the No.6 pick in the recent NFL Draft. If Jones doesn’t emerge as a franchise QB and Darnold does, that’s about as big a Big Blue Blunder as you can have.
Of course, if Darnold doesn’t pan out, it’s GanGrene.
Which brings us to Friday night’s NHL Draft. The Devils, with the first pick, chose center Jack Hughes. His entire family has been involved in hockey to the point where it seemed Hughes was born to be an NHL superstar.
They could have gone with Finish winger Kaapo Kakko, who is considered more NHL ready. But how do you pass on a potential first line pivot for the next decade?
That left Kakko to the Rangers, which is the furthest thing from a consolation. Kakko is 6-2, 190 pounds and became the first player ever to lead his country to the 2019 World Championship, the 2019 World Junior Championship and the 2018 World U18 Championship
Let the debate rage.
“Some people say the Rangers and [GM] Jeff Gorton are in the best spot,” Devils GM Ray Shero told reporters in Vancouver, where the NHL Draft was held. “I mean, I’m picking No. 1, so I’m in the best spot, I think.”
Kakko didn’t agree.
“Of course, it was dream to be No. 1,’’ he told The Post.
When pressed if he wanted to prove the Devils wrong, Kakko said, ‘Sure.”
Hughes had this take.
“I’m pretty confident, but obviously Kaapo Kakko had a great year,” he said.
He did. Kakko could emerge as one of the most talented forwards. A European that plays a physical game. Hughes could become one of the great two-way centers. An American that continues to prove that the USA deserves to be in the hockey conversation with Canada and Russia.
You can hear the ubiquitous “USA! USA!” chant.
If this happens, the NHL and New York-area hockey win. If Barkley and Darnold pan out, the NFL and New York-area football win.
“I was thinking about that this morning.” Rangers team president John Davidson told The Post. “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.”