New Jersey Devils: Where Does Luke Hughes’ Ceiling End?

Michigan defenseman Luke Hughes (43) (Syndication: Detroit Free Press)
Michigan defenseman Luke Hughes (43) (Syndication: Detroit Free Press) /

Luke Hughes, brother of New Jersey Devils superstar Jack Hughes, was the 4th-overall pick of the 2021 NHL Draft. Ahead of the quarterfinal matchup between Czechia and the United States in the World Junior Championship Tournament, let us look at what Luke Hughes has been able to accomplish.

So far, the youngest Hughes has one goal and five assists for a combined six points in four games in the competition. For those keeping score at home, that’s more than Quinn and Jack Hughes at their U20s. He is tied with Olen Zellweger (sigh) for the most points among defensemen at the tournament. Hughes has looked dominant on the ice, and the Fader-Hughes pairing has been the best in the championship.

While Luke Hughes has a lot of similarities to Jack and Quinn, he is also different from his brothers. While he is a great skater and has good offensive instincts, his size at 6’2, 190 lbs makes his potential sky high, particularly defensively.

The mental aspect of the game is different as well. Luke is a risk-taker, sometimes to a fault. But this “cowboy” aspect of him makes his play special. These plays where he spins at the top of the blueline and creates a shot-lane are plays that only a few defensemen in the world can do. This creativity and skill are shown in the offensive zone and in breakout scenarios.

Much like other top defenders, Luke is able to go blueline-to-blueline to transport pucks down the ice. In today’s transitional game, it is vital that teams have defensemen that can be an option as a transporter. Luke’s eye and passing in the offensive zone are also a bit underrated. Using his skating skill, he is able to glide past defenders and play pucks into dangerous areas. Luke’s shot is also arguably the best of the brothers, at least at junior levels. His 17 goals at Michigan would speak to that. All in all, Luke’s offensive ceiling might reach Cale Makar‘s.

Now defensively, there are some issues. Defenders should be on the front foot when defending the rush. Luke Hughes does not do this, at least at the rate most would like to see. He sort of lets the offensive player make his move and then tries to predict or defend the play that comes right after. This is extremely risky, as good offensive players, especially ones that play in the NHL, will make Luke pay.

In the same sort of way Shane Wright looks “lazy” while in the offensive zone, Luke is “lazy” defensively. And when Luke tries to put his foot down and force the offensive player to go wide, he rushes in too quickly, making him very susceptible to being passed around or falling victim to a deke. The other issue I see with Luke is his inability of winning on the boards through his size. Now, size is not the only way one can win along the boards, and Luke can always put on size. Speed and skill can also be used to win, which Luke does show from time to time. Can he translate this skill to the NHL at a high level like Adam Fox and Cale Makar did? Only time will tell.

Next. 7 Prospects Who Will See Time In The NHL. dark

Luke Hughes is a uber-talented defenseman that has extreme offensive upside with some defensive concerns. Even though I highlighted his weaknesses, a lot of this can be offset by playing a more defensive defenseman next to him, which makes the Marino acquisition even better. And with all the Hughes brothers’ work ethic, I would not be surprised if Luke becomes a much better defender by the time he joins the Devils next April.