The New Jersey Devils have two dominant defensive prospects who are amazing on the offensive side of the puck. While things would be interesting, it’s a terrible idea to keep them together at any point.
Over the last two NHL Drafts, the New Jersey Devils selected defensemen with top-five picks. One is a right-handed defenseman and the other is a left-handed defenseman. They both look like dominant offensive performers. Naturally, fans are dreaming of a top pair that would one day include Nemec and Hughes side by side. In fact, many fans want the two to spend the end of the season on the roster so they can pair up as rookies.
This would be a terrible idea.
Hughes and Nemec are incredibly alike. They are both incredible at what they do. That is precisely why they should never play together. Hughes can make immaculate plays with the puck. He can make spin moves and make his own space. That’s the one big difference between Hughes and Nemec (outside of handedness). Outside of that, their strengths and weaknesses almost mirror each other.
So, yeah, with the puck on their sticks, it would be incredibly fun to watch. They could make other teams pay for all their mistakes. The puck would be out of the zone in the blink of an eye once it got on their sticks. Nemec and Hughes are two of the best prospects in the world at getting the puck out of the zone.
Despite this, their weaknesses would make it so hard to actually get the puck on their sticks. They both need to work on the weaknesses they possess in their own zone. If you put them together, it would be volatile. This is exactly what we talked about with Will Scouch of “Scouching” on this week’s Let’s Go Devils Podcast.
(Go to 1:09:00 to see the conversation.)
“Name an NHL defense pair with two players who play the exact same way. You don’t see it very often. If I’m a coach, I don’t want to play these two together. Their strengths don’t complement each other, and their weaknesses make each other worse.” — Will Scouch, prospect expert
These two are both going to be great players, but think about how you can introduce them to the NHL. You could pair Luke Hughes with Dougie Hamilton, and then you could have Simon Nemec pairing with Jonas Siegenthaler. Those are two veterans who know their role very well and would complement what the two rookies are trying to do.
Those pairings would actually work for a long time! We could pair Hughes with Hamilton as he transitioned from an offensive dynamo into a safe defender. Siegenthaler plays the type of game that lasts a long time. Both Siegenthaler and Hamilton are signed until 2028, so they are here for the long run.
There are better options than to force two offensive defensemen together. It makes a lot of sense to put your two best players together in most situations, but it doesn’t make sense when they don’t complement each other. Think about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins rarely put them together because it was better for the team’s ability to win to have them apart. That’s how you win three Stanley Cups.