New Jersey Devils: Luke Hughes Can Beat Connor Bedard For Calder Trophy

New Jersey Devils defenseman Luke Hughes (43) walks to the ice before the start of game four of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils defenseman Luke Hughes (43) walks to the ice before the start of game four of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils were lifeless going into Game 3 of the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes. After a grueling seven-game series against the New York Rangers, the Devils had one day to reset to Carolina. It clearly affected them, as they put up two stinkers. Lindy Ruff was looking at his lineup, and he made the bold decision to add Luke Hughes to the defense.

It clearly worked, as the Devils won the game 8-4. The youngest Hughes brother looked like an NHL player right off the bat. He finished the game with two assists, and his 14 minutes were almost constantly impactful. He earned extra playing time, putting up 18 minutes in Game 4 and 25 (!!!) minutes in the season-ending Game 5. Ruff decided to go out with his best players, and he decided Hughes was one of them. Only John Marino played more minutes.

In any other season, Luke Hughes would go into the season as the clear favorite for the Calder Trophy. He was awesome in college for the University of Michigan. The hype around Luke Hughes has been building for years, and he’s lived up to it at every level so far.

However, this is not a normal year. Connor Bedard is entering the NHL as one of the best prospects ever. He is one of the rare prospects that is expected to take the mantle from the current best in the world (Connor McDavid). Bedard is a phenomenal player already. He skates better than 99 percent of the league already. He will be great from day one. That doesn’t mean he will win the Calder Trophy.

Let’s start with this question: who won the Calder Trophy in 2016, McDavid’s rookie year? Artemi Panarin beat out a star-studded lineup to win the award. Looking back, that won’t look too weird that Panarin beat out McDavid (he is five years older). The fact Shayne Gostisbehere beat McDavid for second place looks bad in hindsight.

It also shows that the favorite for the Calder is rarely the player who wins it. Since 2000, five first-overall picks have won the Calder Trophy. Alexander Ovechkin (who beat Sidney Crosby thanks to the lockout), Patrick Kane, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad, and Auston Matthews took home the top rookie award. That means stars like Jack Hughes, Taylor Hall, Steven Stamkos, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Rick Nash failed to bring home the top rookie award.

Bedard is playing for an absolutely terrible Chicago Blackhawks team. Sure, they added Taylor Hall, Corey Perry, and Nick Foligno, but is that even impressive? Look at this roster. Bedard could score 100 goals, and they still might finish the season with 40 points in the standings. Bedards won’t score that many goals, and defenses will hone in on that line. It’s the typical “let anyone else try to beat us” strategy.

Meanwhile, Hughes plays on a team with Dougie Hamilton, John Marino, and Jonas Siegenthaler on defense. Plus, former second-overall pick Simon Nemec could join the squad during the season. This allows Hughes to play his game and settle into an NHL lifestyle. It also helps that his brother Jack Hughes is the team’s star. They have natural chemistry that should lead to offense.

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Hughes will also get prime power-play opportunities on a superpowered offense. With Timo Meier and Tyler Toffoli added to a roster with Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier, there should be enough goals and assists to go around. Hughes could finish the season with 60 points as a defenseman. That will turn the heads of voters.

It seems like a foregone conclusion Bedard is going to win the award. Betting on Bedard has the same odds on Fanduel as betting on a team to win one game against the spread. Luke Hughes is second at 6/1 odds. There are other interesting choices (Shane Wright, David Jiricek, and Matthew Knies would interest us most based on the odds), but Hughes is the best bet for our money.