For the second time in three years, the New Jersey Devils have the fortune of selecting first overall in the NHL Draft. Back in 2017 the Devils moved up to first overall after winning the draft lottery. They selected talented Swiss Center Nico Hischier who thus far has lived up to the hype and instantly become one of the team’s top players and an emerging young leader. Earlier this month, the Devils once again won the draft lottery and moved up to the top spot. They’ll have to choose between American Center Jack Hughes or Finnish Right Wing Kaapo Kakko. While Kakko is a tremendous, high ceiling prospect that has put together a great draft season, Hughes has remained the consensus #1 among most draft rankings and publications. This profile is going to take a look at Hughes to see the type of player that could become the next great New Jersey Devil.
Who is Jack Hughes?
According to his USA Hockey page, Jack Hughes is a 5’11, 170 lbs. left handed shooting center from Orlando, Florida. He was born on May 14, 2001 thus making him 17 years old at the time of this writing. As we can see from his EliteProspects page, hockey runs in his bloodlines. His father Jim Hughes was a defenseman for 4 seasons with Providence (NCAA) from 1985-89 and then had brief single game appearances in the AHL and IHL in the following 2 years. Jim Hughes has held assistant coaching positions at the NCAA, IHL, AHL, and NHL levels - notably with the Boston Bruins from 2001-03. Jim Hughes has held head coaching positions at the AHL and KHL levels. From 2009-15 Jim Hughes served as the Toronto Maple Leafs Director of Player Development. Jack’s mom, Ellen Weinberg-Hughes was also a defenseman that played at the University of New Hampshire and represented the USA, winning a Silver Medal at the World Championships in 1992. Jack’s uncle, Marty Hughes was a defenseman at Boston College from 1997-2001 and spent a season each in the ECHL and British League after his collegiate career. Jack’s cousin Ted Doherty was a defenseman at Boston College from 2012-16 and played in the ECHL for a season following his collegiate career.
Of course when talking about Jack’s hockey bloodlines, we need to mention his brothers Quinn and Luke. Quinn, 19 years old, is a standout defenseman that starred for the USNTDP as well as the University of Michigan from 2017-19. He had a brief cameo with the Vancouver Canucks at the end of this past season and put up 3 points in 5 games. He has the potential to be a special defenseman for the Canucks and USA Hockey going forward. Luke, who will turn 16 in September, is also a defenseman for the USNTDP and is committed to the University of Michigan. He’s a player that is already being watched closely for the 2021 NHL Draft.
Obviously, Jack Hughes comes from a very talented hockey family. Unlike the rest of his family he is a forward and not a defenseman. He also will never step on the ice in the NCAA due to his elite talent that should allow him to jump straight into the NHL. Before we move onto his rankings and style of play, let’s take a look at his crazy good, at times record breaking production. Once again back to his EliteProspects page, we see that he played his bantam and midget hockey mainly with the Toronto Marlboros program. In 2016-17 he captained the Marlboros Minor Midget AAA team and put up an extremely productive 23 goals and 50 assists in 33 GTMMHL games as well as 58 goals and 101 assists in 80 midget games. He even earned a playoff call up to the Georgetown Raiders in the OJHL where he had a goal and 2 assists in 9 games en route to an OJHL Championship.
In 2017-18, Hughes entered the elite US National Team Developmental Program for his age 16 season. In USHL play he put up 21 goals and 33 assists in 27 games to lead his team in assists and points. He captained the U17 team in the USDP where he put up 13 goals and 35 assists in 24 games. That put him 4th in scoring on that team despite playing in about half of the games with an impressive 2 points per game pace. He played an age group up with the U18 team in USDP action and managed an impressive 27 goals and 41 assists in 36 games which put him 3rd in scoring on that team despite playing in about half of the games. That season also saw Hughes excel in international play as he helped the US to an U17 World Championship Gold Medal and an U18 World Championship Silver Medal. He was named to the All-Star Team in both tournaments, earned U18 Best Forward and MVP honors, and earned USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year honors. While serving as captain of the U17 team he put up 5 goals and 10 assists 6 games. With the U18’s he had 5 goals and 7 assists in 7 games.
This past season he was once again dominant for the USNTDP in both domestic and international action. He led the USNTDP team in USHL action with 12 goals and 36 assists in just 24 games while averaging over 5 shots per game (which lead the USHL according to Prospect-Stats). While serving as captain of the U18 team, he put up 34 goals and 78 assists in 50 USDP games to further lead the program. This past winter he earned a U20 World Junior Silver Medal with 4 assists in 4 games. He just completed a successful run at the U18 World Championships where he once again served as team captain. He put up 9 goals and 11 assists in 7 games as the team earned a Bronze Medal. He was named to the All-Star Team and a Top 3 Player on Team. In 14 career U18 World Championship games he has 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points or a 2.29 points per game rate. As the Devils website noted, his 32 points beats Alexander Ovechkin’s U18 record. Darren Dreger reported yesterday that Hughes is likely to join the USA squad for the upcoming World Hockey Championship. USA Hockey thinks very highly of Hughes, as they should. To put Hughes’ USNTDP career in perspective, I’ll leave you with this tweet from Chris Peters of ESPN:
Jack Hughes finishes the season with 112 points in 50 games with the U18s. His 228 career points cleared the previous record by 39. Not sure that will be touched for a long, long time. Averaged over two points per game in his career.— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) April 28, 2019
Where is Jack Hughes Ranked?
A lot of outlets haven’t released their finalized rankings just yet, but these rankings below will give you an idea of how highly Hughes is thought of in the scouting community.
- NHL Central Scouting Services: North America - 1 (Midterm), North America - 1 (Final)
- Steve Kournianos - The Draft Analyst: 1 (Preseason 400, August 2018), 1 (Top 100, November), 1 (Midseason 400, December 2018), 1 (Top 500, April 2019)
- Future Considerations: 1 (March 5, Spring Ranking), 1 (Winter Ranking), 1 (Fall Ranking), 1 (Preliminary Ranking)
- Hockey Prospect: 1 (Top 31, February 28)
- ISS Hockey: 1 (Top 31, April 2019)
- TSN - Craig Button: 1 (March 25, 2019)
- TSN - Bob McKenzie: 1 (Top 15, April 4, 2019)
- Ryan Kennedy - The Hockey News: 1 (Midseason, February 1, 2019)
With no disrespect to Kaapo Kakko, I think it’s safe to say that Hughes is the number 1 prospect in this draft.
What Others Say About Jack Hughes
Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst has this draft profile of Jack Hughes available on his site. Here is some of what he had to say on Hughes:
For starters, Hughes is an excellent playmaker with hawk-like vision who can perfectly time passes to linemates over long distances, especially off the rush. He uses a variety of head fakes, stutter steps and quick pivots to lure defenders away from a passing lane, and he can no-look pass better than any junior-aged player since Connor McDavid. But Hughes isn’t just a pass-first center, as he uses his blazing speed, agility and elite stickhandling to make inside moves towards the goal with regularity.
Hughes’ elusiveness helps makes up for a lack of upper-body strength, and he’s more of a digger than a pusher during board battles.
There is a lot to unpack here in this short excerpt. Based on this description, Hughes certainly seems like an elite, cerebral player that understands the game at a high level. Not only that, but Hughes comes across as a player that has the high skill level necessary to take advantage of his hockey IQ to constantly create chances for himself and his teammates. I’m encouraged to read that Hughes is able to use his elusiveness to make up for his slight frame. He’ll certainly bulk up over the next few seasons, but he’ll need to rely on that elusiveness to keep himself out of harm’s way in the NHL.
Ben Kerr of Last Word on Hockey has this comprehensive profile of Hughes. I also recommend checking out the full post to learn a lot about Hughes. For now I’ll share some of what Kerr had to say here.
Regarding Hughes’ skating:
He also has top-notch agility and edge work, making him very hard to defend in one-on-one situations. Hughes ability to change speeds as well as his quick cuts makes him difficult for defenders to cover both with and without the puck.
Regarding Hughes’ offensive game:
Hughes marries his elite skating with the soft and quick hands to handle the puck and make quick moves while skating at that top speed...Jack Hughes also has an accurate shot and quick release. Hughes quick hands allow him to change the angle of his release and fool goaltenders.
Regarding Hughes’ defensive game:
He also uses his quick stick to steal pucks from opponents and intercept passes...He is a smart player who reads the play well and can position himself effectively.
Once again Hughes earns praise for his elite skating. You just know that Ray Shero will love that. I like reading that Hughes has soft hands and is able to utilize a quick release on his shot. It’s encouraging to read that Hughes has an active stick defensively and is able to jump on pucks due to his vision and understanding of the play. Kerr also mentions that Hughes’ has the potential to be a franchise center whose playing style compares to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He’s quick to point out that he does have the potential to surpass RNH and it’s just a style comparison.
Back in March, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press had this article on Hughes. Here is what former NHL player and current Assistant to the GM for Red Wings Kris Draper had to say about Hughes:
“I’ve watched him play four or five college teams this year, play against guys who are three or four years older than him and just physically bigger and more mature,” said Kris Draper, Red Wings assistant to the general manager. “They come after him but I’ve yet to see Jack Hughes back down. He’s a real competitive kid. He wants the puck.
“To me, one of the most impressive things is he is an undersized forward, but he is dynamic on his edges. His quickness, his stops and starts, his change of direction off the rush — he has the ability to create time and space for himself. And then he just knows how to slide the puck. He has that knack of where to put the puck to get it back.”
That should put to ease some of the concerns about Hughes’ current stature. It seems like Hughes really has command of his skating and knows how to use it to his advantage on a consistent basis.
A Little Video
This first video from Over the Boards showcases some highlights from Hughes’ draft year. The whole video is worth watching but you can really see his elusiveness in the offensive zone lead to a chance starting at the 0:31 mark. He also makes a nice rush into the offensive zone to get a shot on goal starting at the 1:19 mark. He makes a similar rush in the highlight just after that and utilizes his vision and playmaking abilities to assist on a goal in the next play.
You can check out his U18 WJC highlights from this year’s tournament in the above video. Once again his elite skill is on display throughout the video.
An Opinion of Sorts
In my opinion, Jack Hughes is absolutely the top prospect in this year’s draft class and the player that the Devils should select. He’s the full package of elite level skill, admirable work ethic, and raw potential that can become a franchise player. Hughes’ skating is superb and will certainly make Ray Shero excited to draft him. I love the way that Hughes is able to utilize his strong skating to create plays on offense, break up plays on defense, and avoid taking unnecessary punishment from defenders. He has a great understanding of the game and is able to combine his vision with soft hands to make great passes to set up his teammates. I also like that when need be, he isn’t afraid to try to drive to the net himself off of his excellent skating.
Some may worry about his slight frame at the moment but I can’t stress about it. He’ll definitely bulk up over the next few seasons which should help him be able to continue improving his game. He’s already played against NCAA sized players and succeeded so I don’t feel it’s as big of an issue as some may make it out to be. I really think the prospect of building the team around a 1/2 center pairing of Hughes and Hischier is too great for the Devils to pass up.
What are your thoughts on Hughes as a prospect? Would you be in favor of seeing the Devils select him with the top pick in the draft or do you rate Kaapo Kakko higher? Are there any parts of his game that stand out to you in a positive or negative way? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!