VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - The first round of the NHL Draft wasn’t so much unpredictable as the game is becoming more international.
That was Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill’s observation following an opening round Friday that featured an international theme and numerous twists.
Selected by New Jersey, center Jack Hughes became the eighth American chosen No. 1, and first since Auston Matthews was selected by Toronto in 2016. Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman began putting his stamp on Detroit by selecting German defenseman Moritz Seider. The United States matched Canada with 11 picks apiece.
And the first round also included four players from Sweden, three from Finland and the host Vancouver Canucks choosing Russian forward Vasily Podkolzin at No. 10.
“There’s good players all over the world now. It’s the evolution of our game,” said Nill, who selected U.S. defenseman Thomas Harley with the 18th pick. “It’s good for hockey.”
The draft opened mostly as expected with the Devils selecting Hughes, the top-ranked North American prospect. Finland’s Kaapo Kakko was chosen second by the New York Rangers. And the Chicago Blackhawks rounded out the top three selections by choosing Canadian forward Kirby Dach.
With Hughes going first, it marked the fourth consecutive draft since a Canadian has been selected No. 1.
Doug Armstrong, general manager of the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, doesn’t see a decline in Canada’s dominance in the sport.
“We have a lot of Canadians, and we’re Stanley Cup champions,” Armstrong said. “That’s not disrespecting the Russians or the Swedes or the Americans. I think what the game is is global. It think it’s great for the game to be global.”
That’s certainly becoming evident with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, which produced a program-record eight first-round selections.
It began with Hughes.
From Orlando, Florida, the 178-cm, 77-kg playmaking center had 74 goals and 154 assists to set the NTDP’s two-year record with 228 points in 110 games.
“Obviously, Kaapo Kakko had a great year . . . but I was pretty