The New Jersey Devils have been keeping their head above water since Jack Hughes was injured on the second game of the season. Hughes was slammed on his shoulder while playing the Seattle Kraken, a game the Devils were still able to win. It came at a major cost, but six weeks to the day, Hughes has returned. It’s early than everyone would have guessed after the Devils announced he wouldn’t even be re-evaluated until early December. Hughes suffered a separated shoulder, and now he’s fully healthy.
There is so much Hughes brings to the Devils lineup. Head coach Lindy Ruff says that he will start the game on the wing, which means he will likely be paired with fellow first-overall pick Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha. It makes sense. Playing Hughes at center will likely put extra strain on his recovering shoulder.
Also, this helps make the best possible pairs from top to bottom. The Devils have a pairing that’s rolling in Andreas Johnsson, Dawson Mercer, and Jesper Bratt. The Devils should do everything in their power to keep those three together. Zacha and Hischier also have great chemistry, so it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to break them apart. That would leave players like Tomas Tatar, Yegor Sharangovich, and Janne Kuokkanen to play wing with Hughes.
No offense to those three players, but Hughes needs a little more in his first game back in the lineup.
Pairing him with Hischier and Zacha in his first game back will make the Devils lineup amazing. The entire team is getting closer to full health. Miles Wood is still out for a while after his hip injury, and Jesper Boqvist and Tyce Thompson are both on IR, but the rest of the team is ready to go.
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The Devils come into tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks two points out of a “playoff spot”. They are starting to fall too low in the standings to think about one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers, who are third in the Metro, are already seven points ahead of the Devils in the standings with only one game in hand.
However, a returning Hughes makes anything possible. He looked like an absolute superstar in his first action of the year. He scored two goals in the opening night contest against the Chicago Blackhawks, including the overtime winner where Hughes threw his stick in the stands. He had an assist in the Kraken game when he went down with the injury.
Now, the Devils need to be patient with Hughes, but if he can be 80% of what he was right away, he might still be one of the best forwards on the team right out of the block. Then, he can build himself from there. Eventually, when he’s playing at 100%, he could continue his ascent into superstardom. It’s going to be fun to watch. It all starts Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks.