New Jersey Devils: Where Might Jack Hughes Rank Among Centers Next Season?

New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86): (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86): (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

The New Jersey Devils are more than happy with how Jack Hughes‘ season went in 2021. While he obviously could have been better in some aspects, he took six or seven steps forward from his dreadful rookie season. While some people were already calling him a bust, the Devils weren’t worried and Hughes proved them right. Hughes was the best player on the Devils, and it wasn’t particularly close. Nico Hischier was knocked out of the lineup with three different ailments. Mackenzie Blackwood was maddingly inconsistently thanks to in large part a terrible bout with COVID-19. Ty Smith had a great rookie season, but he was still a few steps behind Hughes. There are questions about all the other core pieces, but the questions about Hughes just aren’t there.

Hughes was on his way to a huge season before the entire team got COVID-19. He added muscle to his frame, and he was finally able to handle himself on the ice. Once the team came back from their outbreak, Hughes seemed to lost a lot of the added weight, and he was able to get pushed around again.

Obviously, this wasn’t ideal, but Hughes was able to work around that unlike in 2019-20. He found a way to be a turnover machine, putting up more takeaways than anyone in the league. The puck was always on his stick. He was a possession machine, and that led to a lot of opportunities. According to Natural Stat Trick, Hughes had 124 total high-danger chances while he was on the ice. That puts him in the same breath as Brad Marchand, Kevin Hayes, and Tyler Toffoli, among many others.

Where does Jack Hughes rank among NHL centers?

So, where will Hughes rank among NHL centers next season? He’s definitely not in the top 15 yet, even by NHL Network ranking standards. Once you get past that threshold, Hughes can at least be in the conversation for top 20. Some of the names in that part of the ranking include Anthony Cirelli, Jake Guentzel, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Hughes can theoretically be in that conversation, but he probably falls just under that.

This next tier is very intriguing. Certain center rankings from 21 to 30 have names like Nazem Kadri, Bo Horvat, Tomas Hertl, and Pierre Luc Dubois. Is Hughes ahead of any of them today? Probably not, but there are going to be people who rank him ahead of them for his upside alone. Hughes showed he is certainly a breakout star candidate in 2021-22.

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The Devils have someone who could fly up on center rankings lists next season. They honestly have two players, because Hischier is a breakout candidate on his own, but Hughes clearly has the highest upside on the team. If Hughes is able to add that same weight he added last season without dealing with a global pandemic, he might rocket himself up into the top 15. It’s probably clear he will rank in the top 30 if lists go that far.