New Jersey Devils: What’s Next For Jack Hughes?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 04: Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils poses for a portrait before the 2022 NHL All-Star game at T-Mobile Arena on February 04, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 04: Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils poses for a portrait before the 2022 NHL All-Star game at T-Mobile Arena on February 04, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The 2022-23 season is upon us and New Jersey Devils fans are ready to drop the puck. The excitement around New Jersey has been similar heading into the last few seasons, the young offensive talent led by 2019 number-one overall pick Jack Hughes.

Despite being hurt for a couple of stretches last season, Hughes seemed to be catching up to the speed of the NHL in his third season, scoring 56 points in just 49 games. Hughes got off to a hot start in the opener last season, all Devils fans now have the “stick toss” engraved in their heads at this point. Unfortunately, after suffering an injury in the very next game, we didn’t really see Hughes blossom until the end of December.

During a stretch of 35 games starting just before the end of 2021, Hughes put together a remarkable scoring output with 48 points. The scoring burst was definitely influenced by two factors, embracing a shoot-first mentality and playing with dangerous playmaker Jesper Bratt.

In terms of Hughes’s shoot-first mentality, he saw how shooting the puck impacted his game. With his jaw-dropping talent handling the puck, scoring chances are going to come naturally throughout a game.

Corey Masisak of the Athletic reported last January that “Hughes leads the Devils’ forwards in expected goals for (3.81) and scoring chances for (49) when he’s on the ice at five-on-five. He’s also second on the team in scoring chance for percentage (55.0), trailing only Jesper Bratt.”

Essentially, the chances are there for Hughes. He’s creating them by shooting the puck more. It gives the Devils a chance to capitalize on more of those opportunities.

So what is a fair expectation for Hughes this season? While I do think 100 points is possible, I think it is more realistic to expect somewhere in between the 75-95 point range, especially since he has yet to play a full 82-game season.

For a realistic comparison and a long shot, it can be helpful to look at the top two picks in the 2015 NHL draft. While Jack Eichel‘s production is a good base to look at for Hughes, Connor McDavid is a stretch. Sorry Devils fans, nobody is McDavid.

Although he isn’t McDavid, there are a few similarities between McDavid’s rookie year and Hughes’s third season. An injury-shortened season held McDavid to 45 games and 48 points. Both of them had 14 power-play points and they also were the young stars for their teams, keeping them competitive but not enough to get into the postseason.

If Hughes is able to take a McDavid-like jump, well let’s just say the only season McDavid hasn’t topped 100 points was the shortened 2019-20 season, where he still scored 97. And yes, that includes the abbreviated 2020-21 season that played just 56 games, where he scored 105 points. There is a reason he is in a class of his own.

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Eichel on the other hand, while playing for a dreadful Buffalo team, put together a similar season to Hughes in his third year, 64 points in 67 games, slightly less than a point per game. As a matter of fact, that was a feat Eichel wouldn’t achieve until year four, with 82 points in 77 games. That’s 15 points in 10 extra games.

The other question could be what Hughes does with Bratt on his wing for a second season. The duo proved to really enjoy playing together last season. The top line in New Jersey should be dynamic this season, expecting to bring speed and skill, along with grit and experience thanks to the addition of Ondrej Palat in free agency.

It’s also important to note that Hughes didn’t seem to miss a beat in training camp with Alexander Holtz and Palat. Holtz jumped at the opportunity to play with Hughes during the preseason, while Palat brought the young line together with his championship experience in Tampa Bay. If New Jersey decides to split up Hughes and Bratt to spread the wealth, Hughes’s production shouldn’t dip too much.

With all of those factors, Hughes’ health, based on what he did last year and the next jump they expect him to take after once again coming into camp looking like a stronger and faster player, 90 points seems like a fair expectation and a remarkable season for New Jersey’s star. The bottom line, the expectation in New Jersey, both in the Devils organization and the fan base is for Hughes to produce like a star.