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Let’s Experiment in EHM: What If Jack Hughes Played Somewhere Else in 2019-20?

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Jack Hughes jumped right from the USNTDP into the NHL with the New Jersey Devils in 2019-20. It was a rookie season filled with struggles. What if he played somewhere else? How would he do in another league and then joining the Devils? With a hockey simulation game like Eastside Hockey Manager, we can try to answer those questions

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits
“Somewhere else? Where?” “Oh, you know, a lot of places...”
Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome to the third experiment in the Let’s Experiment in Eastside Hockey Manager (EHM) series. Last week’s experiment, as suggested by acasser with a roster-assist by CJ, I ran the “Kansas City Scouts” to a Cup with a roster full of players without an ‘e’ in their names. This week’s experiment is an idea that come from alslammerz:

Also inspired by some of your ideas in this post, how about seeing how Jack Hughes would do across a variety of leagues? Edit him onto the Michigan roster for NCAA, put him on his CHL team, (if possible b/c the game seems to think he can’t go there) see how he does in Binghamton, KHL, and maybe one random higher tier European league (NLA, DEL) and one random lower tier European/other league (Belarus, Australia, Japan, Kazakhstan).

In real life, Jack Hughes jumped right from the United States National Team Development Program to the New Jersey Devils. He did not light the world on fire as the 18-year old played like, well, an 18-year old in the National Hockey League. There were flashes of greatness but he has some ways to go in terms of his development. To be fair, Hughes did it all for the USNTDP and produced and performed at such a high level that going to major juniors or college did not seem like a real step up. He took his chances acclimating to the most difficult hockey league in the world. And he did so on a team that melted down as the 2019-20 season went on instead of pushing to play meaningful games in March.

The idea from alslammerz is to see how Hughes would have done if he did, in fact, play somewhere else before going to the NHL and then see how he would do in the NHL in the following season. This was confirmed in this follow-up comment last week. To that end, there is a lot of Jack Hughes to cover as I ran EHM with him at various different levels to see what would happen.

The Experiment

Have Jack Hughes play in multiple leagues for the 2019-20 season, see how he performs, and then see how he performs in the NHL for 2020-21.

The Approach

In the initial suggest, alslammerz asked to see Hughes with Michigan in college hockey, his team in the Canadian Hockey League - which would be Mississauga as they drafted him in 2017, Binghamton, a team in the KHL, a team from a higher tier European league, and a team from a lower tier European league. I agreed with this approach. I chose the Swiss National League and added the Swedish Hockey League, and the Finnish Liiga as higher tier leagues. For the lower tier European league, I selected the Great Britain’s Elite Ice Hockey League as EHM has a lot of depth for those leagues built into the game.

The good news is that thanks to the EHM Editor from The Blue Line, I can place Hughes where ever I wanted easily. The trickier news is that it was a bit of a challenge to maintain his rights with New Jersey and ensure that the AI Ray Shero does not call up or sign Hughes early. I got it to work for all but one of the leagues. In order to be fair to Hughes and keep in the spirit of the experiment, I used xECK29x’s previously released version of The Blue Line rosters as the databases used in each game. The previously released version was accurate to the beginning of the 2019-20 season; thus, Hughes has not played one single NHL game yet. For each game, I would run two seasons: One where Hughes was with a non-NHL team, and one where Hughes was with the Devils (with one exception) to see how he did as a 19-year old.

The Limitation & Confounding Factors

The only limitation is that I had to observe this from a distance. I could not take over or control the team Hughes was on or the New Jersey Devils. I had to let the management in the game make their choices. I could look but I could not intervene.

This leads to the only confounding factor: I had no control on what the Devils did or did not do for two seasons. I can tell you that the team’s fortunes varied wildly between these different games, with some surprising rebounds after 2019-20 in some cases and some further struggles continuing on from 2019-20. What this means is that Hughes may not be in an ideal position or be utilized appropriately when he joined the NHL in 2020-21. That would impact how he did in his second season after the USNTDP. Since I am not taking over a team in 2020-21, all I can do is observe.

Experiment Results: Jack Hughes Went to Michigan of the Big Ten

Older brother Quinn Hughes went to Michigan for two seasons. Younger brother Luke Hughes is a 2021-22 commit to Michigan. Jack Hughes did not become a Wolverine. But imagine if he did become a Michigan Man, even for a season? I can imagine the Children of Yost would have loved it. In EHM, Hughes absolutely crushed it:

Jack Hughes crushed it in college in 2019-20 EHM.
Jack Hughes crushed it in college in 2019-20 EHM.

Hughes led the entire country in scoring with 49 points in 32 games, he shot at an astounding 21%, and posted an incredible 7.91 average rating. In other words, he was legitimately one of the best players in the country in college. Michigan went on to win the Big Ten conference with Hughes leading a very strong team at forward, right next to William Lockwood. Alas, the Frozen Four tourney was not kind to the Blue and Maize as they were bounced out before the National Championship game. This did not deter Hughes from getting plenty of love from the fans - he was Michigan’s Fans Player of the Year - and, strangely, not a lot of individual hardware. He was a runner up for the Hobey Baker award. I really do not understand how he did not win it outright.

More importantly than that, the Devils immediately signed him in June. I do not know if it is something I changed in the editor, but he was signed beyond what a player would get on an entry level contract. No matter, he was a Devil for 2020-21. The Devils in EHM’s 2019-20 missed the playoffs by a few points, finishing ninth in the East, and made a lot of trades along the way. For some reason, Mirco Mueller was traded in August for every one of these experiments. Now with the Big Deal coming from the Block M, would the Devils be propelled forward?

No. The 2020-21 Devils finished tenth in the East. In a way, it is impressive as they lost Taylor Hall to free agency and did not immediately become terrible. It is a testament to the rise of Nico Hischier and the continued goodness from the Pride of Montvale, New Jersey, Kyle Palmieri along with a smattering of signings (Corey Crawford??). I do not know how well it will go for them in 2021-22 as they traded Mackenzie Blackwood for picks. I guess AI Ray Shero thinks that highly of David Rittich? Whatever. This is about Hughes and not what the computer did with the Devils.

Hughes with the Devils after Michigan
Hughes with the Devils after Michigan

Hughes did have a good season in his own right. He played in all 82 games and put up 23 goals and 26 assists, finishing second in rookie scoring to Alexis Lafreniere, who was on Los Angeles. The only downside were the performances. Hughes’ average rating was just 6.66, which appears to be a result of a lot of inconsistency and perhaps being in a non-ideal spot in the lineup. At least he was very productive, he was named to the NHL Rookie All-Star squad, and he did finish second to Lafreniere for the Calder Memorial Trophy. Despite the rating, it was a positive season for The Big Deal.

Hughes Achievements after 2 Seasons
Hughes Achievements after 2 Seasons

One last bit: I have no idea why Hughes was not selected to the United States World Junior Championship rosters in this or any of the other games I ran for this experiment. I do not know if it is a quirk in the system or the team’s administrators blocking a call-up or what. It was odd. No matter.

Experiment Results: Jack Hughes Went to Mississauga of the OHL

The Mississauga Steelheads shot their shot in 2017 by selecting Jack eighth overall in the OHL Priority Selection Draft. If he was going to play Canadian major junior hockey, then he would be a Steelhead. How would Hughes do going up from the USNTDP exhibition schedule and USHL games to the ‘O?’ In EHM’s 2019-20 season of the Ontario Hockey League, he was outstanding.

Hughes crushed it in the OHL
Hughes crushed it in the OHL

Hughes led both the Steelheads and the entire OHL in points with 30 goals and 54 assists in 64 games. He had an average rating of 7.70, which was one of the highest in the OHL. The downside was that Mississauga was not that good of a team. Once opponents got past Hughes’ line, the depth was apparently lacking. Sure, they made the playoffs but they did not last long in it. Not that it was Hughes’ fault. I would say that the OHL award deciders disrespected The Big Deal. Despite leading the entire league in points and putting up such a great average rating, he only won a handful of accolades: the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy for leading the OHL in points, the Canadian Top Scorer of the Year for leading the CHL in points, the Canadian Sportsman of the Year, and the CHL third team All-Star. Not even the OHL All-Star teams or a higher team despite out-producing everyone else as an 18-year old. No wonder Hughes was happy (I presume) to sign his deal with New Jersey in June 2020 in the game.

Hughes had a rough rookie season with the Devils in 2020-21 after a season with the Steelheads.
Hughes had a rough rookie season with the Devils in 2020-21 after a season with the Steelheads.

Unfortunately, Hughes had a rockier season in this time with the Devils. The Devils as a team did scratch and claw their way to a playoff spot, led by great seasons from Blake Coleman, Jesper Bratt, and 2020 free agent signing Robin Lehner. Hughes finished tied for sixth in rookie scoring, which sounds better than what it was. In 70 games, he put up 13 goals and 16 assists along with an unimpressive 6.49 average rating. Despite New Jersey making the playoffs (and getting swept by Eastern Conference leading Columbus), Hughes was a healthy scratch in the postseason. He earned no accolades with the Devils in the 2020-21 season, not even as a member of the All-Rookie team. That was not a positive result after crushing the OHL for a season.

Experiment Results: Jack Hughes Went to Binghamton of the AHL

It is not possible in real life for players under the age of 20 to play in the American Hockey League unless they were a professional player elsewhere. Fortunately, this is a video game and I can make it so that Hughes could do so. I anticipated this to be a challenge. Even so, it is a tough league to break into as it is filled with older prospects, veterans looking for another shot or a shot at all at the NHL level, and tweeners between the parent club and the farm team. It was a challenge to make it happen at all in the game. Anytime I tried to have him start with the B-Devils, New Jersey would call him up. The only way it worked was for Hughes to have an AHL-only contract. This meant that he was a free agent by season’s end and, well, you will see what happened.

Anyway, Hughes in the AHL proved to be the challenge I expected. Unlike the OHL and NCAA, he was not a scoring machine that had a lot of great performances. It was much closer to his first NHL season in both of those games (and perhaps real life, too).

Hughes did not crush it with the B-Devils
Hughes did not crush it with the B-Devils

Whereas Jesper Boqvist and Nathan Bastian thrived, Hughes was very much just a player in many games in the AHL. While it was nice to see 21 goals from the rookie, 21 goals and 16 assists with an average rating of 6.89 is not much to write home about. I wonder if he caught a cold snap because he did represent the team in the AHL All-Star Game, but that was his only achievement. Binghamton did not make the playoffs and New Jersey finished twelfth in the 2019-20 season, so his season was done along with everyone else’s.

However, other teams were interested in The Big Deal. Remember how I had to put him on an AHL-contract to make him stay there for a season? This meant he was up for grabs and Minnesota snagged him. I cringed at my error. I still ran the 2020-21 season to see how it would go. The Devils still missed the playoffs, although they made some slight improvements and finished tenth. As for the Wild, they made the playoffs. While they were knocked out in five games by St. Louis, Hughes was a standout for them.

Hughes was a big producer for the Wild in 2020-21
Hughes was a big producer for the Wild in 2020-21

Hughes’ average rating of 6.44 is not something to celebrate. His 21 goals and 35 assists in 81 games are. He was tied with Zach Parise for second on the team in total points; he was two behind the leader, Kevin Fiala. The 35 assists were also second on the team; five behind Ryan Suter. His 56 points led all rookies in scoring, even ahead of Lafreniere’s 54. If nothing else, Hughes was a big producer right out of the gate for the Wild. While he was strangely not a finalist for the Calder, Hughes was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team. I get the sense that while the low average rating demonstrates that he still has much to improve, that one season in the AHL plus a good fit in Minnesota really helped his production as a rookie. The only downside was that it was for Minnesota and not New Jersey. Still, it was a positive result after a season in the AHL.

Experiment Results: Jack Hughes Went to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL

If you’re too good for major junior and college hockey, but you’re not ready for pro hockey in North American, then your best bet may be to play in Europe. It is a pro experience with a different style of game, but with a higher level of competition whose fortunes do not directly impact the team who has your rights. The top league in Europe is the Kontinental Hockey League, which is largely based in Russia and has made some in-roads in other countries. Given how the KHL typically limits the ice time and usage of young players, I was curious how the game would treat him in this league. I decided to place Hughes with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a good but not great or overloaded team.

It was not easy, but Hughes found a regular spot and produced at a fairly good clip. And he did so better than most of his teammates.

Hughes put up 39 points in 53 games with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL
Hughes put up 39 points in 53 games with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL

39 points in 53 games may not jump off the page, but being the second leading producer on a team full over adult professionals than made the KHL playoffs should. Again, the average rating of 6.88 belies inconsistencies and issues with his game. But it showed up better than his NHL or AHL play so far. Hughes’ 39 points ended up being the second most in the entire KHL among rookies. He would earn Rookie of the Month twice, represent his team at the KHL All-Star Game, and contribute to their playoff run. Yes, Lokomotiv went in a few rounds and Hughes put up five goals and six assists across fifteen playoff games - finishing tied for eleventh in playoff scoring in the entire league. Alas, they were stomped in the semi-finals by eventual Gagarin Cup winners, CSKA Moscow. Hughes was impressive enough to win the Alexei Charapanov Award for the most proficient first-year player. (Even though he was not the leading scorer among rookies.)

Hughes won an award in the KHL for his season.
Hughes won an award in the KHL for his season.

Meanwhile, the 2019-20 Devils stunk in EHM. They finished just a few points ahead of Detroit and Ottawa in the East. Hughes and a whole smattering of free agent signings joined up for 2020-21. The good news is that they improved by fifteen points. The bad news is that they still missed the playoffs by a whole lot and finished eleventh in the East.

Not a good first NHL season for Jack Hughes again.
Not a good first NHL season for Jack Hughes again.

Hughes had a rough time of it too. He put up 29 points again, he was limited to the bottom six, and he put up a very poor average rating of 6.27. The KHL experience did not lead to a good rookie campaign for Hughes. While only four rookies outscored Hughes, the 19-year old was hardly among the better first-season performers in the 2020-21 NHL season in EHM. If anything, this is worse than his post-OHL season. Perhaps other experiences will be more fortunate?

Experiment Results: Jack Hughes Went to Brynäs IF of the SHL

Jesper Boqvist was the most recent Swedish prospect to play a somewhat regular role for the New Jersey Devils in real life. Boqvist played for Brynäs IF in the Swedish Hockey League. I figured that was a good team as any to send Hughes to in this part of the EHM Experiment. The Brynäs faithful in the game would be very grateful for it as Hughes was a force for them in the SHL.

Your eyes are not deceiving you, Jack Hughes led the entire SHL in points.
Your eyes are not deceiving you, Jack Hughes led the entire SHL in points.

Hughes did not just lead his club in scoring. Hughes did not just lead all rookies in the SHL in scoring. Hughes led the entire league in scoring in this SHL season in EHM. While the average rating of 7.16 suggests he was not all that and a bag of chips, he was still a frequent contributor to the scoresheet. Despite Brynäs not being a top tier team - they finished sixth - Hughes was often the one involved in their scoring. Hughes’ gaudy numbers would not keep Brynäs from an early elimination in the SHL playoffs, but the league gave him the appropriate amount of respect. Hughes was the SHL Player of the Week once, Rookie of the Month three times, and won awards for leading the SHL in points and being the Rookie of the Year.

Hughes won another trophy, this time in the SHL.
Hughes won another trophy, this time in the SHL.

Meanwhile, strange things were afoot in the NHL. In 2019-20, the Devils were bad and Edmonton cratered. Edmonton won the draft lottery to take Alexis Lafreniere. Hall left New Jersey and signed with Edmonton. Edmonton proceeded to take second in the West. As for New Jersey, they somehow earned 113 points to win the President’s Trophy. I still do not know how they really did that. Yes, they signed Lehner who did well but not to any Brodeur-ian level. Yes, they got a lot out of Coleman, Bratt, Hischier, and Gusev. But 113 points is a stunning amount. I checked: Shero and Hynes were still on the team. Somehow, someway, the Devils went from missing the playoffs by a decent amount to finishing first out of thirty-one teams. The Devils won their first round match-up, lost a tough seven game series to Pittsburgh, and winced as they saw Hall hold up the Cup for Edmonton.

Devils scoring in 2020-21, this team earned 113 points?
Devils scoring in 2020-21, this team earned 113 points?

As for Jack Hughes, he had a really good 2020-21 season in New Jersey. Whether it was a function of a team performing much better, any growth from his time with Brynäs IF, or a bit of both, Hughes played a decent amount and put up nearly fifty points. Hughes played in all 82 games, put up 21 goals and 27 assists, and ended up finishing second to Lafreniere for rookie scoring in the entire NHL. He also ended up finishing second to Lafreniere for the Calder, while being appropriately named to the NHL Rookie All-Star team. If that was not enough, Hughes’ production continued. In the postseason, Hughes led all of the Devils in scoring with three goals and five assists. It is enough to think well of his future in this particular game. While his average rating of 6.62 is not that hot, it is one of the better ratings amid this whole experiment. It could very well improve in the future.

Hughes has had plenty of achievements in his first two pro seasons in this particular game.
Hughes has had plenty of achievements in his first two pro seasons in this particular game.

Experiment Results: Jack Hughes Went to Tampereen Ilves of the Liiga

The most recent drafted Finnish player in the Devils’ system is Eetu Päkillä, who played for Ilves in the Liiga last season. What better team to choose for a 18-year old star from the USNTDP? Since he did so well in the SHL, he would surely have a similar 2019-20 in the Liiga, right?

Hughes put up 50 points in his one and only season with Ilves in EHM.
Hughes put up 50 points in his one and only season with Ilves in EHM.

As it turned out, he would. Hughes suited up and played big minutes for Ilves in both the Liiga and the Champions Hockey League. In the continental tourney, he put up five goals and five assists in ten games for the team. In the Finnish league, Hughes scored 22 goals and put up 28 assists in 58 games. He finished third on Ilves in total scoring, tied for 19th among the entire league, and most among rookies. With an average rating of 7.05, he did not set the world on fire but he did fairly well along with his copious amount of production.

Ilves had a very good season and entered the playoffs as a third seed. Unfortunately, they were upset in a seven-game series with Pelicans. Hughes had a very good series with three goals and four assists in seven games with an average rating of 7.57. It was a disappointing end of the campaign for the squad. However, Hughes did win the Jarno Warsana Memorial award for the most proficient first-year player in the league. It was a well-earned honor.

Hughes won the Jarno Warsana!
Hughes won the Jarno Warsana!

New Jersey punched up in this 2019-20 season and found themselves in seventh place by season’s end so they made the playoffs. They were swept by Buffalo. Still they had a successful season with an incoming 19-year old Hughes, who played very well in Finland. Would this help the Devils stay in the playoff picture? No. Hughes did not play well at all in 2020-21 for New Jersey, which saw plenty of players leave for free agency such as Hall. He made just 38 appearances and put up four goals and eight assists with 44 shots on net. His average rating was a very poor 6.29. This led AI Ray Shero to do the unthinkable and trade Jack Hughes to Los Angeles - who was the worst team in the league that season - for Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Jordan Spence. Anderson-Dolan was with the Ontario Reign in the AHL at the time and hardly playing like a star. Spence was a 20-year old defenseman who was crushing a QMJHL filled with younger players. Yes, Shero traded 19-year old Hughes for a minor leaguer and a long-shot defenseman prospect. Yes, Shero finished the season as Devils GM. As the Devils finished seventh in the East for a second straight season. They stunned Buffalo with a sweep before getting knocked off in five-games to eventual Cup-winning Toronto.

Yes, the Devils in EHM traded Hughes.  Yes, Shero in the game kept his job.
Yes, the Devils in EHM traded Hughes. Yes, Shero in the game kept his job.

Hughes in Los Angeles saw his production rebound at least. He had around the same number of shots and his average rating was an even lower 6.22. It likely did not help that he was on the worst team in the NHL. Still, he put up nine goals and twelve assists in 36 games to bring him up to 33 points. That may not seem like a lot but for whatever reason, the rookie class in 2020-21 was not very productive. Hughes finished tied for third in rookie scoring with teammate Samuel Fagemo ahead of him by five points and seven points behind rookie scoring leader - and Calder winner - Alexis Lafreniere of Las Vegas. Hughes did not finish as a finalist for the Calder and he was not a member of the Rookie All-Star team. It was a negative experience a season after doing so well for Ilves. Perhaps the worst of all since New Jersey traded him away and still made the playoffs.

Experiment Results: Jack Hughes Went to SC Bern of the National League

Nico Hischier is the first ever first-overall draft pick by the New Jersey Devils. Before he went to Nova Scotia to play for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL, he played a season for SC Bern in the National League in Switzerland. As Jack Hughes is the second ever first-overall draft pick by the New Jersey Devils, it seems to me that SC Bern is a good team to select. As we know that Hischier did quite well in the KHL, SHL, and Liiga, then he should make an impact with SC Bern.

Jack Hughes finished third overall in National League scoring in the National League.
Jack Hughes finished third overall in National League scoring in the National League.

And he did. Hughes led his team in scoring and finished third in the entire National League in scoring. He played a significant amount of minutes for his team in all competitions and posted a high average rating. A 7.63 average rating over the season is excellent. Hughes had 27 more points than the next-closest rookie and he was a point-per-game player in the Champions League and in the playoffs. The only downside to his season was that SC Bern was upset in the first round by Lausanne HC (led by Devante Smith-Pelly) in six games.

Nevertheless, Hughes received plenty of achievements in Switzerland. He was the National League Player of the the Week three times. Hughes was named the league’s best rookie in September, October, December, and February. Without much controversy, Hughes was named the Rookie of the Year of the National League. Lastly, weeks after he joined up with New Jersey, he was named the Player of the Year by the SC Bern fans.

While Hughes was making a lot of fans in Bern, Switzerland, the Devils were disappointing in Newark, New Jersey. They finished fourteenth in the East and saw Hall and Vatanen walk to the free market among other movements. However, AI Ray Shero made some moves in 2019-20 that bore fruit in 2020-21 such as acquiring Jordan Kyrou, who broke out in 2020-21. They added plenty of young players like Noah Dobson and Sam Steel, and supporting players like Boone Jenner. Jack Hughes was very much a part of this movement and he contributed quite a bit to the team. The 2020-21 Devils were much better but ended up missing the postseason by one point. A postseason that ended with the worst result possible.

Hughes showed up fairly well in 2020-21 for the Devils.
Hughes showed up fairly well in 2020-21 for the Devils.

As for Hughes, this was one of the better 2020-21 campaigns he would have. While kept to about fourteen minutes per game, he did put up 19 goals and 22 assists with 107 shots. His average rating was a not-good but not-terrible 6.66. His 41 points not only put him ahead of most of his peers on the Devils, but he was just a few points behind Alexis Lafreniere for the rookie scoring lead in the entire NHL. Surprisingly, neither Hughes or Lafreniere were finalists for the Calder Trophy at all. It went to defenseman Scott Perunovich, who put up 40 points and posted a 7.44 average rating. Still, this was a positive season for Hughes as part of an improving the Devils roster in spite of who they lost from the 2019-20 season.

Experiment Results: Jack Hughes Went to Cardiff Devils of the Elite Ice Hockey League

The last stop for Hughes’ 2019-20 World Tour in EHM is Great Britain. The Elite Ice Hockey League has teams in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. One of the older teams in the EIHL are the Cardiff Devils. I thought that would fit for Jack Hughes. So I sent him to Wales for the 2019-20 season. Then things got weird.

This does not make sense.
This does not make sense.

For some reason, Hughes only played in 26 games in the EIHL for Cardiff. He did not suffer a major injury in 2019-20. I do not quite know whether it is due to game limitations or player rights, but I would have expected him to play the whole season for Cardiff. Somehow, EHM has him listed for 26 games with Cardiff - where he did quite well as one may expect - and also 49 NHL games albeit for Cardiff somehow. Cardiff is not in the NHL. If he was transferred to New Jersey, then would he not have been listed as a New Jersey player? Yet, in 2020-21, he is not listed as a rookie. His 41 points were not among rookie scorers. This leads me to think that he was transferred in-season. Which is odd if of itself as this did not happen at all with either of the other leagues. Even in the Binghamton part of the experiment, his AHL contract lasted through the whole season.

What it ultimately means is that this one should be taken with a grain of salt. As it turned out, Cardiff lost in the EIHL Finals to the Nottingham Panthers; Hughes was a runner up for the EIHL rookie of the year albeit with 26 games played; and the 2019-20 Devils that finished 12th became a worse team as the 2020-21 Devils finished 14th with just 80 points in the standings. At least Hughes put up 41 points, although still with a low average rating of 6.44.

Experiment Conclusions

Across the entire experiment, Jack Hughes had very good runs or very good seasons in seven out of the eight these non-NHL leagues. The qualities of the teams he was put on did differ as did the leagues themselves. However, Hughes was a leading scorer among rookies - if not the entire league - in college, major juniors, the KHL (rookies only), the SHL, the Liiga, and the National League in Switzerland. While Eastside Hockey Manager is just a game, it does support the notion that Hughes would have been successful as a producer in most non-NHL leagues in the world. He earned consideration or what is the league’s Rookie of the Year award in most of these leagues. It also supports the notion that Hughes would have crushed college and major juniors so much that it would beg the question why he would even go there.

First, EHM gives a rating to each player’s performance in a game and averages rating over time. It is a quick summary of whether they are doing well or not. Hughes was very good in some of these leagues but not necessarily in all of them. The average rating in the professional leagues in Europe was generally lower than what they were with Michigan and Mississauga. Second, Hughes had the roughest time in the American Hockey League. As this is one step below the NHL in North America, it was interesting to see that Hughes have a harder time producing and performing compared with the European leagues. Perhaps that is a testament to the quality of the AHL that may get underrated with how most teams utilize it for development. Third, despite doing well in seven out of these eight experiments in 2019-20, Hughes often struggled in the 2020-21 season in the NHL. Even when he would produce around forty points and end up being close to the leading scorer among rookies, his average rating was consistently in the six-range and he would frequently average 13-15 minutes per game, which means he was not receiving top-line minutes on wildly different Devils teams. He had some rather poor rookie seasons and was even traded away in one example due to how bad he was on the ice. The only exception was, interestingly, after his AHL season. While his average rating was still low with Minnesota, he did finish second on his team in points and led all rookies with 56 of them. It was his most productive NHL season out of all of the eight. Regardless, it seems clear that in the world of EHM, Hughes’ first season in the NHL as a 19-year old was still going to have issues of some sort.

That is really the main conclusion in my view from this experiment. Whether it is a function of how rookies in general have consistency issues and/or are often limited in production (no rookie scoring leader had more than 50 points save for that Minnesota game) in the game kind of misses the larger point. The NHL is really, really difficult league to break into and it is really, really uncommon for someone under the age of 20 to really break through right away. Expecting a player to steamroll their competition in one league does not necessarily mean they will be a star right out of the gate in the NHL. There is indeed time for players to develop, grow, mature, and improve. Even if they were the top rookie in their previous league or the league’s leading scorer in just one season there.

I am sure that some of the issues in this experiment are tied to EHM and are tied with how varied the 2020-21 Devils were in each game. And this is indeed just a game. If in real life Hughes was a leading scorer in Europe for a season, then I would think the NHL Devils would have given him prime minutes for at least part of the season - which could have spurred more production and better play. All the same, we can at least take away that it is plausible Hughes would performed a lot better in most other leagues in 2019-20 other than in the NHL on a Devils team that face-planted in their first month and remained in the dirt from then on.

The Next Experiment

Thank you to alslammerz for this week’s experiment. Next week’s experiment will be the one suggested by MedicSBK a few weeks back:

How about utilizing the highest ranked Corsi players from the 2018-19 season on a team together to see how they perform when compared to a WAR optimized team?

I will not use the 2018-19 data, but the 2019-20 data instead to keep it consistent with what used in the WAR-Optimized experiment. This will be run for next week’s post, which should prove to be another contender. After then, I may take on the all-Nico idea from EliasStillRocks, but that depends on how easy or tedious it is to do in the database editor. We shall see.

Your Take

In the meantime, please let me know what you thought of the third EHM Experiment. Are you surprised to see how well Jack Hughes did in seven out of the eight non-NHL leagues used for this experiment? Does it make you wish Hughes played elsewhere in real life in 2019-20 or do you think it is a moot point as Hughes still had “growing pains” in his rookie NHL season as a 19-year old? Which of the eight seasons impressed you the most? Please let me know your answers and any other ideas for EHM Experiments that you would like to see in the comments. Thank you for reading.