New Jersey Devils Should Ease Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec Into Lineup

Michigan defenseman Luke Hughes (43) looks to pass against Denver during the first period of the Frozen Four semifinal at the TD Garden in Boston, Mass. on Thursday., April 7, 2022. (Detroit Free Press)
Michigan defenseman Luke Hughes (43) looks to pass against Denver during the first period of the Frozen Four semifinal at the TD Garden in Boston, Mass. on Thursday., April 7, 2022. (Detroit Free Press) /
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The New Jersey Devils have strung together five wins in a row, all on the road. The Devils found consistency on and off the ice. Meanwhile, the NCAA Frozen Four Championship is roaring right around the corner. It’s kind of sneaking up on us. What does this have to do with the New Jersey Devils? Luke Hughes finishing up his season and career with the University of Michigan.

Assistant GM Dan MacKinnon mentioned in the past he and GM Tom Fitzgerald look to sign Luke Hughes to his entry-level contract when his season ends. The Michigan coach himself said he expected the youngest Hughes brother to make the jump to the pros the second he takes off his Wolverines uniform.

The Devils drafted him in 4th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft, while the next season taking Simon Nemec 2nd overall. Luke Hughes joining the Utica Comets to play with Nemec would only help him ease into the Devils’ organization. It allows Hughes and Nemec to develop instant chemistry, where both guys can look ahead to the 2023-24 season.

Having Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec coming up during the playoffs could be a double-edged sword. In theory, Hughes is a new-generation breed of finesse and speed with a flare of offensive. A key conundrum he needs to work on is his ability to be a lot stronger on the puck. He has hockey sense, skating, and stick handling. However, this is why Devils brass must let Hughes add more muscle mass just like his brother Jack did as a center the past two seasons.

When Luke Hughes is able to protect the puck, he will be seeing “Luke Hughes” on that NHL roster on a nightly basis. Rushing a player before he can fix those key variables might hurt his style of play. It might even impact the team’s playoff seeding. Prospects always deserve tempered expectations, and the real outcome should be that Luke Hughes makes the team the following season in the autumn.

Playing in Utica has actually been beneficial for Simon Nemec. It helped assimilate his game to North American ice. The NCAA level is North American style, but the pace isn’t NHL caliber. Seeing how Nemec was able to perform in the AHL, allowing him to be a half-a-point-per-game player with 15 points in 30 games played (4 goals).

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New Jersey’s format of developing highly skilled and talented players is a recipe for success in the near and long term. Letting a Luke Hughes marinade in Utica and developing his body in the offseason will only benefit him into the superstar he is destined to be.

If the Devils do end up making a trade involving Damon Severson it’s because they will call up Nemec knowing he might be showtime ready. That opening for Luke Hughes will allow him to work with Comets Coach Kevin Dineen to help them shoot for the Calder Trophy in 2024.

The Comets have Nico Daws and Akira Schmid behind the defense. That will help Hughes feel more confident in shutting down opponents. If he does miss an assignment, he does have a goalie that will bail him out with spectacular saves.

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There is so much upside with both players’ games that the future is bright now and only going to get brighter and better as these two studs on defense get better. Both these defenders on the left and right side will bring a lot of versatility, skill, pace, speed, and energy to this fanbase, especially when certain contracts are moved on from in the near future that will help this team become a playoff contender and Stanley Cup contender over time.