With an Imperfectly Impactful Performance, Jack Hughes Offered a Pretty Clear Reminder of His Limitless Potential
It would be easy to point to a 'Player of the Game' worthy performance in Team USA's most important game of the tournament, that came on the heels of an inexplicable benching against their biggest rivals, and say "I told you so" to those that can't seem to compliment Kaapo Kakko without hating on Jack Hughes. After all, in just 12+ plus minutes of ice time, he was able to cause two turnovers (he pick-pocketed Ovechkin like he was a first-time international tourist just prior to the second highlight) that created two huge goals that somehow kept competitive a game against a Russian team that's loaded with top-level NHL talent. You'd think such a showing would prove the perfect counterpoint to the Finnish manchild's eye-popping assault on every hockey twitter timeline.
The truth, however, is that what we saw out of Jack Hughes yesterday was far from perfect. There were still times where the slightest bit of contact sent him swimming. There were still instances in which he looked entirely overmatched physically, as exemplified by him being left bloody after being driven into the ice like a pick on a zone entry attempt. There were still plays where a 160-170 pound kid who turned 18 less than two weeks ago looked like...well, you might want to sit down for this...a 160-170 pound kid who turned 18 less than two weeks ago...
I say that not to discredit what was an undeniable reminder of the level of talent that's had Jack Hughes atop 2019 draft boards since 2016, but rather to point out that being underdeveloped in a way that's typical of far more than most teens isn't going to stop him from having an immediate (and increasing) impact on NHL ice. Finished product, he is oh-so-shockingly not, but try to imagine what his almost unprecedentedly slick skating, Patty Kane-esque puck skills, playmaking prowess, and innate ability to have an instantaneous impact will look like once they are attached to a man who is already capable of standing out amongst full-grown superstars, despite a limited role, as a literal boy. Honestly, it shouldn't really require 20/20 foresight.
A massive amount of awe and respect to Kaapo Kakko for flat-out bullying his way into the conversation for first overall as a biological anomaly, but the previous projection is what still has Jack Hughes listed as the #1 prospect by a vast majority of the experts that don't adjust their rankings after each and every highlight. If you even care enough to live beyond the moment then you need next to no imagination to foresee that projection coming to fruition, even though yesterday's moment was pretty damn impressive in and of itself. American bias aside, while it'll definitely take a decade+ to officially declare one close to can't-miss player better than the other, his final pre-draft audition reinforced the reason to believe that there's more of Jack Hughes' best still to come than that of the Finnish freak who is already fully grown beyond his years.