This season, the New Jersey Devils are celebrating 40 years since they packed up and left Colorado, abandoned the Rockies moniker, and embraced the horns and tail of the Devils in New Jersey. It’s been a roller coaster full of a lot of very high highs and possibly even more lower lows. The Devils are attempting to emerge from one of their darker periods, only making the playoffs once in a decade, only winning one game during that playoff appearance. It’s been a rough time for those of us dedicated to the red and black.
But the expression about the darkest before the light seems to ring true here. The New Jersey Devils, even when they won three Stanley Cups, never truly had a player that would break 100 points. The closest was Patrik Elias, who I believe should be a Hall of Famer, hit 96 points in 2000-2001.
Enter Jack Hughes. We all know his story at this point, drafted first overall in 2019, slow and questionable start to begin his career. It had many questioning whether or not he would ever live up to the immense hype of a first overall pick. Many in the day and age of Twitter were already referring to him as a bust as he accumulated a mere 7 goals and 14 points in his first season where he played 61 games.
Entering 2020-2021 and Hughes talked about his intense offseason workouts to put on about 15 pounds or so of muscle after being regularly bodied. He improved with 31 points in 56 games. He looked far more confident and the underlying numbers screamed that he was about to pop, people pointing at his 7.7 shooting percentage that season.
Then the 2021-2022 season arrived with one of the most memorable moments I don’t think I’ll ever forget as long as I live and I wasn’t even in the arena to see it.
Hughes seemed prime to carry my beloved Devils to the next level. We all know what happened next. Jeremy Lauzon, Seattle Kraken, tossed Hughes like a sack of potatoes, he hurt his shoulder and the Devils goaltending went south, yadda, yadda, yadda, one of the most miserable seasons in New Jersey history.
We’ve finally arrived at this season. The Devils have had a microcosm of their entire history already and it isn’t January yet. Franchise record tying 13-game winning streak. Miserable December to counterbalance their incredible start. But through it all, Jack Hughes has been stellar. His ability to shoot and create every game remains a highlight, no matter how the team is doing.
The Devils have had some unbelievably talented players to wear their uniforms. Patrik Elias, Scott Niedermayer, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Petr Sykora, Brian Gionta, Jamie Langerbrunner, Patrik Sundstrom, Kirk Muller and Brendan Shanahan. The A Line of Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias brought me so much joy after the 1995 trap team brought the first Cup to New Jersey. But no individual player has ever possessed the ceiling of Hughes.
And the beauty of it is we are just getting started with him. He has 39 points in 35 games with 18 goals. He’s not only creating a ton of opportunities, he’s finishing them himself. He still seems to only be scratching the surface as well as Hughes hasn’t had a true finisher on his wing yet. I can only imagine what he would be like with a true power winger to cash in on all the chances developed.
He’s also got his youngest brother coming to join him soon, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to think he will have incredible chemistry with Luke. Say what you want about Luke, and many have this week, but he’s going to be an offensive dynamo and I’m imagining it will be even more beautiful.
So, as a fan, I just want to say that I truly feel like we need to stop and take a moment to appreciate that the draft lottery fell our way and we got Jack Hughes on the Devils. He’s already a star that’s about to go full supernova (which will last quite some time).
I’m going to several more Devils games this year. A couple in California and possibly a few more back in Jersey late in the season. And nothing excites me more than watching the edgework, ankle-breaking, passing, vision and even pinpoint shooting of Hughes in person. It’s a glorious feeling to finally have one of those amazing talents with the NJ crest across that beautiful sweater. Take a moment today to just appreciate number 86. Even if he isn’t always great with the media, still struggles on faceoffs and you sometimes feel as though he can get bullied. He’s nearly perfect to me. And he’s ours.