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Jack Hughes, possible Devils draft pick, to headline U18 World Championships
13 2019 . North Jersey.com. By Abbey Mastracco

Taylor Hall talks to the media about the conclusion of the 2018-19 season and the knee injury that ended his year early. Abbey Mastracco, Staff Writer, @AbbeyMastracco

The Jack Hughes hype machine may already be running on high but its about to get kicked into high gear next week when Hughes leads Team USA into battle at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Sweden.

In case youve been living under a hockey puck or youre jumping on either the Devils or Rangers bandwagons after finding out the two teams are picking 1-2 in the 2019 NHL Draft, Hughes is the projected first overall pick. The 17-year-old Orlando-born, Toronto-raised center will undoubtedly be center stage when play officially begins on April 18.

With exhibitions slated for this weekend (and Team USA already 0-1 in the exhibition portion of the tournament), heres a primer to get you set for Hughes Palooza 2019.

Team USA fell in their first exhibition game Friday, losing to Finland 1-0. Theyll play one more exhibition contest Saturday in Finland, this one against the Swiss team, before the official start of group play Thursday.

Where
Hughes met the team in Heinola, Finland, after making an appearance at the draft lottery in Toronto on Tuesday night. Sweden hosts the tournament in Ornskoldsvik. Team USA is in Group B for the preliminary round and will face Sweden, Slovakia, Russia and Latvia. The quarterfinal round will then begin April 25. All games are televised on NHL Network.

All eyes will be on Hughes. Kaapo Kakko, the Finnish phenom who is projected to go No. 2 right now, will not be playing in the event. The 18-year-old winger who plays in Finlands highest league, Liiga, will be playing in the senior event in May. Kakko will be playing against NHL players and some of the top international talent.

This is a big tournament for Hughes. He was injured during the World Junior Championship a few months ago and didnt get to show what hes fully capable of. But Hughes has been well-scouted. His excellent skating and his ability to create offense out of nowhere has earned him the reputation of a magician on the ice.

Hughes best asset may be his ability to make others around him better on the ice. His linemate with the US National Team Development Program, Cole Caulfield, has more goals (29) than Hughes (12) in the USHL this season. Caulfield himself has become a projected first-round pick despite his stature (5-foot-6, 150 pounds).

General manager Ray Shero has already said he will be traveling to Sweden for the event in order to scout Hughes. New Jerseys director of amateur scouting, Paul Castron, has seen Hughes several times and has been singing his praises for a year now, since the team brought in his brother Quinn, a Vancouver Canucks rookie, for pre-draft interviews last year.

By now you probably know the story of the Hughes family: Their father, Jim, played at Providence College and briefly in Europe, while Shero represented him as his agent. He made a name for himself in the head of player development with the Toronto Maple Leafs and now works for agent Pat Brisson at CAA. Their mother, Ellen, was a standout three-sport athlete from New Hampshire and Hughes' youngest brother, Luke, plays on the U.S. U17 team.

This tournament will last until late April if the U.S. advances to the gold medal game.

This is a mental grind as much as a physical one. Hughes will be playing against players his own age but hes thought to be on a whole other level than most. Hes keeping a diary for NHL.com if youre interested in seeing his thoughts.

Whats next
The NHL Draft will be held June 21-22 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.