New Jersey Devils: What Should We Realistically Expect From Jack Hughes?

(Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images) /

There is no question that winning the NHL Draft Lottery and subsequently selecting Jack Hughes with the first-overall pick has altered the history of the New Jersey Devils.

Drafting the 18-year-old American phenom Jack Hughes on June 21 kickstarted a series of roster additions for the New Jersey Devils. The team that takes the ice on October 4 against Winnipeg will likely be much improved from the one that finished 29th in the league in 2018-19.

While Hughes has been called a “can’t-miss” future star and compared with current players like Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, and (optimistically) Connor McDavid, there are obviously pundits who say Hughes’ time to stardom will take longer than Devils fans hope.

With that being said, what should we realistically hope for from Hughes as he takes the ice in his much-anticipated rookie season? What is a fair benchmark for his offensive output?

Let’s start by taking a look at his unprecedented numbers with the U.S. Development team. In 50 games played last season, he registered 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists). His career mark of 228 points is most all-time for the NTDP, significantly ahead of current NHL stars like Clayton Keller (189), Phil Kessel (180), Kane (172), and Auston Matthews (167).

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Leading up to the NHL Draft, his critics’ go-to statements were that he was “playing with boys,” thus leading to this level of dominance. But when you compare his record-breaking stats to what these aforementioned players did as amateurs, you can’t help but respect Hughes’ potential.

Now, let’s continue looking at these comparable American NHLers and see what kind of numbers they put up in their rookie seasons. In 2017-18, Keller put up 65 points and was a Calder Trophy finalist. The year prior, Matthews recorded 69 points in his rookie season. Kane hit the ground running with 72 points in his first year in the league.

The only real concern with Hughes is his size (5’11, 170 lbs). Like Nico Hischier, Hughes will be subject to awkward hits along the boards because of his smaller stature. However, Hughes’ elite speed and ability to create time and space should allow him to counteract that.

With the Devils’ newly acquired depth at wing, Hughes is pretty much guaranteed to play on a line with scorers, assuming he establishes himself as a top-six player. We’ll guess he’ll play on the second line with some combination of Jesper Bratt, Nikita Gusev, Kyle Palmieri, or even Wayne Simmonds. Hughes should also get plenty of time on the first power play unit.

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All these things considered, let’s put Hughes’ benchmark in the 60-point range. I’ll go ahead and predict he finishes his rookie season with 68 points (20 goals, 48 assists). Who would complain about that?

There’s no doubt that Hughes will be an extremely fun player to watch, at the very least. He has the star quality that the Devils have lacked over the years—Hughes is confident, charismatic, and let’s face it, downright handsome. Hopefully, he’s also the centerpiece to sustained Devils success over the next decade and a half.