What’s not to love about Jack Hughes?

Head Of The Class: Devils number one pick Jack Hughes (middle) headlines a new era with Kaapo Kakko (left) of the Hudson Rivalry. AP Photo via Getty Images

Okay. Judging by the title, I’m going to take a beating from my Ranger fans here. But before you roast me, let’s be honest.

Jack Hughes is an American dream. The Devils’ top pick has the looks, smile and personality to vault the NHL into the next decade. It’s not only about the world class skill he possesses. He is the kind of rare generational player that doesn’t come along too often.

The best part is Hughes will become a headliner in the metropolitan area. Even if it’s in Newark for the enemy, it’ll be with the backdrop of the Big Apple close by. This is a home run if the league actually markets the Devils franchise center. You know. Like they once did with Crosby and Ovechkin.

That means giving him more exposure along with the Devils on NBCSN. Why wouldn’t they? GM Ray Shero added larger than life personality in top right defenseman PK Subban. A 30-year old veteran who has a lot of motivation after the Predators couldn’t wait to dump his contract a year removed from a big season that saw him finish in the top three for the Norris.

If Taylor Hall rebounds in a contract year provided the former league MVP is healthy, the Devils could find themselves back in the playoffs next year. Especially if Hughes delivers in his rookie season. The playmaking pivot has great hockey sense and vision that can make teammates better. He should be fun to watch on the power play with Hall and Subban.

Don’t forget Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri either. Both will play key roles in whether the Devils can turn it around. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the goalie situation. Cory Schneider is the number one until proven otherwise. Mackenzie Blackwood will challenge him. That could turn into a good situation with the younger netminder pushing the established vet.

But it’s really all about Hughes in New Jersey. The palpable excitement he showed last week after Devils legend Martin Brodeur made it official at the podium in Vancouver. This 18-year old kid was pumped up to be number one overall and a Devil, praising the organization. He has a close relationship with Shero, which is why it was never in doubt. They love him.

Fans should too. Look. I’m not suggesting that as rival fans, we should go out and get Hughes jerseys. I’m not that far gone yet. But a Hughes USA jersey would be pretty cool. I know this will anger the Kaapo Kakko crowd. I love Kakko and believe he will do for the Rangers what Hughes will for the Devils. But Hughes is American and is interesting to listen to. The enthusiasm is refreshing compared to your standard bore and snore fest with Crosby and lackey Pierre McGuire.

There’s one thing we can all agree on. Having Hughes in Newark and Kakko in Manhattan will add the much needed juice to what’s been a stale Hudson Rivalry. Throw in Subban and Jacob Trouba and you’ll have plenty of intensity in the stands like the glory days. How long before Devil fans chant, “Jack Is Better?” October 17th is marked for a reason.

Even the Devils seem intrigued by pricey Russian free agent forward Artemi Panarin. But if it’s indeed true that he is reportedly seeking as much as $12 million per year, that’s too rich for even the Rangers. I doubt the Islanders would do it. They’re also interested which could spell the end for captain Anders Lee. Imagine losing captains in consecutive summers. With the unfair advantage Florida has due to no state income taxes, I would expect the Bread Man to wind up there along with former Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky.

That’s enough free agency talk for now. July 1 is still three days away. On Monday is when we’ll learn a lot more. For now, let’s celebrate the arrival of Hughes and Kakko. They’ll be taking the rivalry into new territory.

Get ready.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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