New Jersey Devils: History Says Jack Hughes Can Still Be Great

Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images) /

The NHL playoffs are in full swing and it’s been glorious. There have been so many feel-good stories through the play-in round and into the first round that it’s almost too hard to keep track. One such story that New Jersey Devils’ fans should be conscious of is that of one Mr. Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dach was drafted third in the 2019 NHL Draft behind both Kappo Kakko and of course New Jersey’s very own Jack Hughes. Dach has six points (1g 5a) in eight playoff games this season and was especially impressive in the Hawks play-in round upset of the Edmonton Oilers. Dach was so good in fact that it had me questioning the potential of Hughes.

The 19-year-old Hughes is coming off one of the most frustrating and statistically underwhelming seasons in number-one pick history. New Jersey’s diminutive center was a minus-26 and managed just seven goals and 21 points in 68 games. Horrifying stats even for a pathetic Devils’ squad. Not much to feel good about for sure.

Despite showing flashes of brilliance, Hughes was mostly overmatched and looked like the smallish player we all feared was possible. Seeing the physically larger Dach succeeding on the NHL’s biggest stage only further fueled my frustration with Hughes.

Then, it happened.

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The Devils’ official twitter feed put out a picture of stronger and more mature looking Hughes and I suddenly remembered, the best way to get over the hiccups is to be scared. Hughes’s first season was scary, but it will be remembered as nothing more than just a slight hiccup for this young man and we have history on our side to back this up.

There have been plenty of NHL superstars and current Hall of Famers that got off to rocky starts in their respective NHL careers. Names like Stevens Stamkos and Tyler Seguin have been mentioned frequently throughout Hughes’s trying rookie campaign. But there are plenty of others with more impressive resumes that come to mind.

For example, did you know that NHL icon Mark Messier only had 12 goals and 33 points in 79 games during his first full NHL season in 1979-80? The Hall of Famer would go on to have a legendary career including 6 Stanley Cups, 15 All-Star appearances, and more than 1880 career points.

Also, did you know Henrik Sedin managed just 29 points in 82 games as a rookie? Henrik finished his accomplished career with more than 1,000 points and a Hart Trophy to boot. He and his brother Daniel are heroes in Vancouver and future Hall of Famers.

Another of the game’s greats that didn’t hit the ice running was Joe Thornton. His rookie season flop is legendary. Thornton was the first-overall pick for the Boston Bruins in 1997. He was supposed to be a savior in New England. Instead, he had the worst rookie season imaginable. With just three goals and four assists in 55 games, it’s hard to imagine a worst-case scenario. Starting with year two, it was clear his rookie season was the exception and not the rule. More than 20 seasons later, Jumbo Joe is still playing and widely regarded as one of the greatest players in NHL history.

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The list doesn’t stop there. Greats Like Pierre Turgeon, Owen Nolan, Vinny Lecavalier, and even Gordie Howe himself didn’t hit the ground running. Howe collected a mere 22 points in 58 games as a first-year player, and we know how his story ends. And to put a Devils spin on it, New Jersey’s all-time leading scorer Patrik Elias had a very pedestrian rookie season. Elias only had 37 points in his first full NHL season. “Patty” would go on to play more than 1200 games, score more than 400 goals and collect over 1,000 points in the NHL – all with the Devils.

Despite the slow start to his career, there is plenty to get excited about when it comes to Jack Hughes and his very bright future. Honestly, the entire season was a complete disaster and the club did very little to set up its young phenom for success. There is little doubt in my mind that Jersey Jack is the real deal and he’s doing everything he can to put himself on the right track. Now it’s up to ownership and its management to improve the pieces around Hughes and that’s the part that scares me the most.