New Jersey Devils: We’re Not Worried About Jack Hughes, But We’re Not Not Worried Either

New Jersey Devils first-overall pick Jack Hughes has struggle to get things going. We still think he’s going to be a fine, but a message from the coach on Thursday has us asking questions.

Jack Hughes didn’t make much of an impact in the New Jersey Devils 6-5 shootout loss to former head coach John Hynes and the Nashville Predators. Much of that has to do with the fact he only played just over 10 minutes of 5v5 hockey. The only players on the team to play less were Miles Wood, Kevin Rooney and John Hayden.

Hughes played just three shifts in the second period. He wasn’t having a good game. He ended with a 42.11 CF% at even strength. What’s strange is head coach Alain Nasreddine only called on him to start play twice. Maybe he didn’t like how he has been in faceoffs, but later we learned it was more detrimental than that.

While speaking to reporters after the game, Nasreddine says that he just didn’t “like Hughes’ effort” and felt the need to sit him.

With Jack, we thought the start of his game wasn’t where we needed Jack to be as far as effort and attention to detail and getting involved and engaged in the game. Sometimes a quick reset is a good thing.

That’s not what you like to see your coach saying about a 1st-overall pick in his rookie season. There was a lot of offense to be had in this game for the Devils, and Hughes could really use some points to get him going. However, it’s concerning that a coach felt the best way to deal with what we hopes becomes a star player was to sit him down on the bench. This isn’t even Nikita Gusev sitting above the game to get an idea about how the NHL game goes (an idea we also hated), this is literally a punishment.

Nasreddine says he liked how Hughes responded. This wasn’t the overall performance we want, and it seems more often than not lately we’re left wanting more from Hughes. It might have something to do with the linemates he’s been playing with. As of late, he’s had Wayne Simmonds on his right and either Pavel Zacha or Miles Wood on his left. That’s not the best situation for him.

The problem with that is there’s nowhere else to really put him. It’s rough to think about breaking up the line of Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac and Nikita Gusev. Then, there’s the first line of Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt.

Until the Devils make some moves at the NHL Trade Deadline, this is the line combination Hughes will be playing with, so he has to make it work.

Hughes is still an 18-year-old kid. There’s nothing we’re going to get from his season this year that’s going to tell us what kind of career he’s going to have. He has just 17 points in 41 games, which is much lower than we expected him to have this season. He’s on pace for 28 points, which would be the worst rookie season for a first-overall pick since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

That’s obviously not a player we like named in the same breath as Hughes, and honestly the two aren’t terribly comparable. However, it’s hard not to see that Hughes is struggling this season. His size is an issue that will fix itself eventually. He’s not going to be 160 pounds forever. In fact, we expect him to gain some size this offseason. Nico Hischier did it this past offseason, and look at what he’s turned that into.

Again, we stress we’re not worried about the future of Jack Hughes, but we are a little worried about the present of Jack Hughes. He needs to learn how to play in the NHL with what he’s given. Even if he hasn’t been given the best hand, he has to be the kind of player that makes it work.