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Is the gap between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko for the No. 1 draft spot really that close?

Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

It seems to happen just about every NHL draft season, usually around the World Junior Championship. The presumptive No. 1 pick for the following June's draft almost always plays and that tournament becomes a referendum -- at least among fans and media -- on that player's status as No. 1.

This year was probably one of the most intense post-WJC debates I've seen. Both Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko played at the World Junior Championship. Hughes played in only four of a possible seven games because of an injury and registered four assists. Kaapo Kakko saw his role only increase for Finland, appearing in all seven games and finishing with five points. Kakko also scored the gold-medal-winning goal in the final minutes of the championship game against Hughes and Team USA.

For many hockey fans, it was the first time they got to see Hughes and Kakko head-to-head, and the latter performed better. Hughes was playing through an upper-body injury sustained in pretournament play and aggravated during the team's first game. Maybe it wasn't a completely fair fight.

Either way, people saw what they saw, and suddenly Hughes' grip on the No. 1 spot that has appeared inevitable since last season at least seemed to loosen. So just how close is it?


The case for Hughes

Hughes is a special talent, pure and simple. He has what many have referred to as the "wow factor." He can make plays that most other players in this draft class cannot. Some of them might not even see the options that become available to Hughes, who not only has the vision, but also can make all of the plays at top speed.