New Jersey Devils Should Double Shift Jack Hughes On Power Play

New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) celebrates his goal against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) celebrates his goal against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils power play was dreadful again on Tuesday night. Despite the win, changes must be made. It starts with their star Jack Hughes.

The New Jersey Devils‘ power play is still a major problem. It might be the team’s biggest problem going into the second half of the season. Through 41 games, the Devils have scored on exactly 20% of the team’s power plays. That has them slightly below the equator when it comes to efficiency in the NHL. Honestly, the Devils’ power play looks even worse than that.

Things hit a valley on Tuesday night. The Devils’ power play went 0/4 on the PP while giving up two shorthanded goals to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes are the only team ahead of the Devils in the Metropolitan Division standings, and the Devils almost blew the game because of their power play.

The Devils’ power play has been dreadful for two years now. There are a few reasons. While the system is much better this season under Andrew Brunette, it’s still not close to perfect. However, the bigger problem is the difference in ability between the first and second units.

The first unit boasts Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Tomas Tatar, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton. That should be an elite unit. The Devils have one of the best offensive players in the league right now. Hughes is a superstar. He has five power-play goals, while Hischier and Bratt both have more with six. Hamilton has three goals with the man advantage.

On the rest of the team, only one player has more than one power-play goal. That’s Alexander Holtz. He was in the owner’s box on Tuesday night watching the Hurricanes score two shorthanded goals. The Devils second unit has been abysmal. On Tuesday, it consisted of Damon Severson, Erik Haula, Fabian Zetterlund, Miles Wood, and Ondrej Palat.

Just to give you an idea of the issues we have with that unit, Jonas Siegenthaler has more PP goals than Severson.

That unit can’t ever happen again. Leaving Dawson Mercer AND Yegor Sharangovich off the units makes no sense. While both young players have struggled (well, not Mercer on Tuesday), they have the skills to excel on the power play.

Now, let’s make the real point. Jack Hughes should not come off the ice during the power play except in very specific circumstances. Unless the Devils have a double minor or power plays very close together, Hughes should play all two minutes. We know he can, as he played north of six minutes just a few weeks ago.

The way the Devils power play is running right now, everything comes off the stick of Hughes and Hamilton, and it’s made to set up Bratt and Hischier. In fact, the captain has been ridiculous, if not unlucky, with the man advantage. He leads the team with 24 individual high-danger chances with the man advantage. That leads the team by 10 (with Miles Wood inexplicably number two).

So, why go with Hughes double shifting over Hischier? Putting Hughes on the PP makes sense because he gets to play the setup man again. He’s taken 44 shots on the power play, but he only has nine high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. (Hischier’s splits are 31 and 24.) Putting Hughes on the second power play allows the Devils to use him differently. He can let the play come to him.

The other team knows to rush Hughes on the power play when the first unit is out. Then he will throw it to Hamilton. That’s where the chances going the other way come. If the Devils put out a unit of Severson, Hughes, Mercer, Sharangovich, and Palat/Wood, the team can put Hughes down low to use his speed and agility to get to rebounds and other pucks that appear in high-danger chances.

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The Devils need to do something on the power play. The current structure is terrible. However, it only needs tweaks. The results are tragic right now, but it only needs shifts instead of wholesale changes. Put Hughes out there the whole time, and use him differently. If the Devils want to have him skate the puck in still, that’s fine. He is the best on the team at zone entries. However, once they get in the zone, the team needs to put Hughes underneath, and it will lead to more goals.