New Jersey Devils: Jack Hughes Will Break Into Top Five Centers This Season

Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils and Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks battle for the puck at Prudential Center on February 06, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. The New Jersey Devils defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils and Elias Pettersson #40 of the Vancouver Canucks battle for the puck at Prudential Center on February 06, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. The New Jersey Devils defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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This week, a quiet time in the NHL rumor mill, a simple Twitter poll got people talking very passionately. Jack Hughes became a superstar in the NHL last season. He helped carry the New Jersey Devils to the playoffs, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 2018. Hughes broke the Devils franchise scoring record with 99 points.

Over in Vancouver, the national media didn’t pay much attention after they fired Bruce Boudreau. The Canucks were pretty bad all season, and none of the stars were available in trade because they want to turn it around next season. The biggest reason the Canucks want to turn it around is Elias Pettersson is entering his prime.

And that brings us to the poll…

As you can see, the question was simple. If a team could make a choice, should they take the future career of Jack Hughes or Elias Pettersson? Twitter polls isn’t an exact science, but it’s interesting that the poll was so one-sided. 19,000 votes is a pretty good sample size, especially for an account that is pretty down the middle.

Hughes had a lot more publicity this season than Pettersson, so that’s definitely helping the narrative. He was in the playoffs and made it to the second round, putting a whole new set of eyes on his game.

However, Pettersson was better last season. Hughes was better offensively and Pettersson was better defensively, but the difference is the excelling at one or the other. Hughes is one of the best offensive drivers in the game, but Pettersson isn’t that far behind. However, Pettersson is well about average defensively, and Hughes is about average.

Yet, check out the language of the poll. We’re looking at the better player for the rest of their career. Hughes is 22 and Pettersson is 24 and will turn 25 early next season. Pettersson probably has six or seven more years of his prime. Hughes is looking at another decade in his prime.

That prime begins this season. He will hit 100 points, and he will find linemates that bring out the best in him. Erik Haula seems pretty set as a third liner, so Hughes will get his choice of Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt, Tyler Toffoli, and Dawson Mercer as his wings. He will also do better on the power play now that they have a better mix of talent and a new voice in Travis Green.

Pettersson is still a great center, but is he in the top five? Will he ever get to the top five? Connor McDavid has been the top guy for a long time. Auston Matthews and Nathan MacKinnon are in the conversation for the foreseeable future. Then, it comes down to perception.

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Hughes and Pettersson sit in a group of about a dozen centers who are vying for that top-five spot. Jack Eichel, Sidney Crosby, Aleksander Barkov, Brayden Point, and Leon Draisaitl are some of the names that could claim to be a top-five center. Most of those players are steeped in their prime. Hughes is the outlier here, being barely 22 years old.

Hughes will take another step next season, and he will see his name said with the greats in the game. Pettersson might be there as well, but it’s hardly a guarantee. Hughes seems like a much better bet to be in the top five now and in the future.