Jack Hughes Begins His Hart Trophy Campaign On Night 1 of Devils Season

New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) celebrates his goal against the Detroit Red Wings 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 Detroit Red Wings during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /
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The New Jersey Devils beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 on opening night. Jack Hughes scored two goals to push his team into the win column.

It’s Game 1, and it’s Win 1 for the New Jersey Devils. They had a lot going for them. Vitek Vanecek kept them in the game when the Detroit Red Wings came like a siege in the first period. He made multiple miraculous saves. Jonas Siegenthaler finished the game with three assists and played a fine defensive game. Dougie Hamilton’s rocket put the Devils in front, and Erik Haula’s empty-net goal goes down as the game-winning goal.

None of it matters if Jack Hughes doesn’t have the kind of night we’ve never seen before. He was aggressive, emotional (in mostly a good way), and he made it a point to steal the show. Hughes finished the night with two goals, both absolute beauties.

Two very different goals with the same result. Hughes can snipe the puck with the best of them. We know he’s a great playmaker, but his goal scoring seems to get better every season. And yet, he wasn’t exactly satisfied after the game.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. It’s a good first win for us. Man, we’d like to hope we’re a lot better team at the end of the year,” Jack Hughes told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan during the postgame interview. “We got to kind of put the noise aside and get to work and dial our game in.”

Hughes comes into this season with very different expectations. He’s now considered a top-ten player. Many analysts are picking him as a Hart Trophy favorite. With that hype comes attention, both off the ice and on it. He was pretty badly held down by Jake Walman. It should have probably been a penalty, but the referees usually don’t call that. What they do call is a clear retaliatory slash. Hughes went to the box 2-1, and the Red Wings ended up tying it. Hughes also had a penalty earlier in the game for roughing Moritz Seider, which was a pretty ridiculous call.

So, how does a game with two penalties from a player who never gets penalties lead to higher MVP odds? Because voters love to see a player change his game to fit the needs of his team. The Red Wings were really forechecking and taking it to the Devils. As soon as Hughes took that first penalty, things turned around.

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Scoring two goals, using his physicality, and being the team’s leader on the ice is how you start an MVP campaign. Scoring two highlight-reel goals and being the first star of the game helps that, too. Hughes is going to do this all season. He’s just better than almost everyone. The Devils are lucky to have him, and his presence is going to keep the Devils in contention for a long time. Sounds like an MVP to us.