Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Rangers with Kaapo Kakko visit Jack Hughes and his New Jersey Devils for their first chapter of the Battle of the Hudson on Thursday.

Frank Curto

The New York Rangers and their stepchild across the Hudson River, the New Jersey Devils, have had played in some great games over the last 20 years.

Mike Richter vs. Martin Brodeur and Mark Messier against Scott Stevens are just two examples of who the Rangers and Devils have put on the ice against one another. Recently, the names have changed to Mika Zibanejad and Nico Hischier.

Come Thursday night at the Prudential Center, the cross-town rivalry will pick up in intensity.

The two top draft selections in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft are about to face one another for the first time as professional hockey players. The first-time opponents will finally meet head-to-head.

Kaapo Kakko and Jack Hughes. Does it get any better?

This has been a date circled on the calendar for both teams and by everyone who follows hockey.

Hughes, 18, had his name called by the Devils as their No. 1 selection (the league’s No. 1, as well). That decision made Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton’s that much easier as the club selected Kakko with the No. 2 overall pick.

The two top players, who now play for teams a few miles apart, share a conference, a division and, most importantly, a city.

Growing Pains For The Rookies

The season has been a huge learning curve for both Kakko and Hughes.

Kakko has been playing on the second line since the preseason. He scored the first goal of his career last Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

He showed great stickhandling and puck control as he took a pass from Ryan Strome, skated to the net and put a backhander past Oilers goaltender Mike Smith.

The relief shown on Kakko’s face was immediate as the pressure to score that first NHL goal is now behind hind him.

The Rangers have played just three games heading into Thursday’s game, yet Kakko has shown that he is ready to play in the National Hockey League. His poise on the ice and his ability to use his size is a huge factor in why he made the team out of training camp.

Kakko is learning the changes happen quite often. He has already played with two different centers, Filip Chytil ( now in the AHL) and Ryan Strome. On Thursday night, Kakko, along with Chris Kreider, will have a new face in the middle with Brett Howden being promoted to the second line on Tuesday.

Unlike their Broadway brothers, Jack Hughes and he Devils have suffered through a bad start to the season. Currently sitting at 0-4-2, New Jersey is still looking for its first win of the 2019-2020 season.

Eighteen-year-old Hughes has not had the start he was looking for, though he has had his scoring chances. The rookie has yet to find the back of the net and is a minus-4 on the young season. He is averaging 15:50 of ice time.

Hughes’s frustration was displayed on Monday in a loss to the Florida Panthers. The rookie hit the post not once, but twice on the same sequence and followed up by slamming his stick on the ice.

Wins And loses Doesn't Matter

The Rangers have played the Devils 247 times, currently owning a winning record (118-92-27).

The numbers have absolutely no bearing of Thursday’s contest. The slate is clean now with the Kakko vs. Hughes battle all set to start an epic Metroplotian showdown for years to come.

The showdown will set aside winning and losing streaks, it will put aside the points in the standings and display what both clubs believe to be the best players on their respective teams.

The draft, camps and preseason are behind them. One team is looking to continue a rebuilding process that began a year and a half ago and the other is just looking to get their first win of the season.

It’s officially time to get on the ice and see who wants it more while the fans witness how lucky the Metro area is going to be to watch the future of the NHL kickstart their careers in the traditional Hudson River rivalry.

Hughes and Kakko will get their first taste of what it means to battle in a contest that is more than just a hockey game.

This is a game that brings bragging rights with the final score. For this game, the two top drafted players will face-off against one another on the Devils home rink with plenty of fans from both teams in attendance.

This is just the first meeting of the season and already it has the feel of a Stanley Cup Playoff game.

This rivalry is once again renewed, thanks to two 18-year-old players.

It is a great day for hockey.

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