Welcome to the first of what will be about 30 prospect profiles of the 2022 NHL Draft class over the next six weeks at All About the Jersey. The Devils have the second overall pick; however, a draft class will have more than just the one selection. As revealed in the 2016 and 2017 draft classes (among many others), there is value to be found in later rounds. Therefore, many of the profiles will look into players who are not at all going to go second overall. Or even in the second round. Although, the subject of today’s profile could be a second round selection of the Devils. It could also be one of the funnier/groan-worthy picks the team could make this year: Jack Hughes of Northeastern University.
Who is Jack Hughes?
This Jack Hughes is not The Big Deal. While he did play for the United States National Team Development Program, this Hughes did not set all kinds of records, get drafted first overall, or will drop a stupefying 1.14 points per game in his third season in the NHL. No, this Jack Hughes is different. Whereas the Big Deal is the brother of Quinn and Luke and the son of Jim Hughes and Ellen Weinberg-Hughes, this Hughes has his own hockey family. His older brother, Riley, was selected in the seventh round in 2018 and plays for Northeastern. His dad is former agent and current general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, Kent Hughes. His dad has already tipped his hand and stated he will not pick his son first overall. His son joked that he is making a mistake.
Anyway, this Jack Hughes was born on November 2, 2003 in Westwood, Massachusetts. His Elite Prospects profile lists him as a center, shoots left-handed, and stands at 6’0” and 165 pounds. After some time in prep hockey, he joined the USNTDP Under-17 team in 2019-20 and was promoted to the Under-18 team in 2020-21. With the U-17s, he was productive with 38 points in 49 games outside of the USHL and 18 points in 29 games in USHL games. Good for fifth and seventh in scoring on those teams, respectively. Hughes shined at the World Hockey Challenge, an international U-17 tourney, with three goals and seven points for the silver medal team that featured Chaz Lucius, Dylan Duke, Sasha Pastujov, and Luke Hughes. With the U-18s, Hughes’ production remained favorable with 34 points in 38 non-league games (tied for eighth on the team with Luke) and 8 points in 14 USHL games. Jack did play at the 2021 World Under-18 Championships; he put up a goal and assist in four games as the Americans lost in the quarterfinal round.
That would be it for Jack Hughes as a junior player. Given his birthdate - which makes him one of the older prospects available in 2022 - Hughes enrolled in Northeastern University. The Huskies were one of the strongest teams in Hockey East in 2021-22. They had several NHL draftees such as Devon Levi, Sam Colangelo, Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, Jordan Harris, and Jack’s older brother Riley. Hughes’ basic stat line of 7 goals and 9 assists does not seemingly jump off the page. However, he did contribute to a team that did finish first in Hockey East and made it to the NCAA tournament. He did well enough to be named to the conference’s All-Rookie team as decided by the coaches. There’s potentially a player to watch for the future given early success in a fairly strong program.
One last bit: Some sites refer to him as Jack D. Hughes. Do not be shocked if he goes by J.D. Hughes or by that when he officially gets to the league. Then again, if there can be two Sebastian Ahos, then there can be two Jack Hughes.
Where is Jack Hughes Ranked?
Jack Hughes’ ranking has a wide array of spots. Some tabbed him in the tail end of the first round. Others have him as an early third round pick. Of course, opinions may change in coming weeks, but here is where others have placed him so far.
- #26 North American skaters - NHL Central Scouting (Final Ranking)
- #46 - Elite Prospects (May, #46 is from his profile page)
- #69 - Craig Button, TSN (May 10, 2022 ranking)
- #57 - FC Hockey (Spring ranking)
- #29 - Smaht Scouting (Winter ranking)
- #32 - Will Scouch (April ranking)
- #70 - Recruit Scouting (March ranking)
- #24 - Draft Prospects Hockey (April ranking)
- #54 - The Hockey Writers - Peter Baracchini (May 7, 2022 ranking)
- #53 - The Hockey Writers - Matthew Zator (April 5, 2022 ranking)
- #42 - The Hockey Writers - Andrew Forbes (March 22, 2022 ranking)
- #47 - Dobber Prospects (April 8, 2022 ranking)
One thing I noticed in some of these rankings is that Hughes has dropped in a couple of these rankings. The big one for me was by Central Scouting Services. They had Hughes at 7th among North American skaters in their midterm report. They dropped him a whopping 19 spots . Additionally, Craig Button placed Hughes at 48th in March and then dropped him 21 spots in his recent list. Also, Zator’s February list had Hughes at 38 and his more recent ranking in April put him at 53. Dobber Prospects had him in their top 32 in their midterm ranking and now have him at 47th in their April ranking. This is not entirely across the board (hi, Draft Prospects Hockey), but do not be shocked if updated lists follow suit (e.g. Smaht Scouting). While a fall in the rankings could be a sign of other players being more impressive; double-digit drops in spots suggest the player was not as impressive as others. Given that some his midterm rankings were so high, most may have not been impressed with how he finished his freshman year at Northeastern.
What Others Say About Jack Hughes
Between his higher rankings earlier in this season and being someone people have seen for a season or two at the USNTDP already, there is quite a lot of opinions about Hughes. Let us start with a profile from the middle of this past season; presumably at his “peak” consensus-wise. This one comes from Steve Kournianos at The Draft Analyst, which is worth your time to read in full as usual. There are a couple of parts to highlight. First, Kournianos noted Hughes’ usage with Northwestern just before he published the profile:
Dec. 28, 2021: Much like 2021 second-overall pick (and NTDP alum) Matt Beniers with Michigan a season ago, Hughes wasted little time moving up Northeastern’s depth chart to establish himself as one of the top players on a deep team expected to contend for an NCAA title. But unlike Beniers, who began the 2020-21 season on the Wolverines’ fourth line, Hughes — the youngest player in Division I hockey — was immediately thrust into a middle-six role, where he stayed for close to 10 games before assuming the top-line slot in mid-November.
This may explain the higher rankings. Northeastern was a very good team in 2021-22. They won Hockey East, which is still a major conference in college. That he was promoted higher up in the depth chart so quickly despite a lack of points on the scoresheet suggests his game is much more than getting onto the scoresheet. Not necessarily something you would expect from someone who turned 18 in November 2021.
Second, Kournianos noted that despite what you would expect from someone with a 165 pound frame - something that will absolutely need to be beefed up - Hughes was a physical player:
Playing a physical brand of hockey is just one of several ways Hughes can impact a shift, and he is highly competitive once he actually commits himself to a puck battle or net-front struggle, often using a hard crosscheck to send a message. Speaking of his stick, Hughes may be one of the more active stick-swingers you’ll ever watch in your lifetime. He uses it in a scythe-like manner, one which can be construed as wild or uncontrollable. But for whatever reason — timing, hand-eye coordination, luck — Hughes breaks up a significant number of opposing breakouts by way of his long, effective stick.
This should ease the
bloodlust desire of those of the People Who Matter who lament a lack of this sort of thing in the system and in New Jersey. One of the general points about the college game is that it can be a rougher game than you may expect. Everyone is at least 18 and there are a lot of fully-physically developed young men in their early 20s. Those extra few years compared to major junior allows for heftier dudes and therefore the checks can be heftier. That Hughes not only survives but thrives in playing in that way is a credit to his game. Kournianos did note that the stick-checking has got him into some penalty trouble. Combined with some other careless moves noted at times, the hockey sense could use some refinement. But Kournianos made a point of it to praise Hughes’ off the puck play and how physically involved he gets in a game.
Kournianos also made a point of it to highlight Hughes’ “team first” mentality. This was echoed in Brandon Share-Cohen’s profile of the player at The Hockey Writers, which was published in April. Here are two notable snippets from the profile:
A tenacious center who isn’t afraid to play physically, Hughes can definitely be described as a team-first player. His ability to think quickly, maneuver masterfully along the boards and stickhandle at a nearly elite level give him a high floor that endears him to his coaching staff.
This is in line with what Kournianos wrote about Hughes back in December. It is also a very succinct summary of the player’s strengths and also a weakness. When people write that a player has a “high floor,” that is a double-edged statement. It indicates that what you see in a player now is what you are likely to get in the future - but not much more than that. Combined with terms for being hardworking and having a team-first mentality, you can almost piece together the description of “Lots to like but not much upside.” But let us not jump to that conclusion just yet.
One of the criticisms Kournianos made of Hughes was how he was susceptible to making too flashy of a pass. Share-Cohen would agree with that given this other snippet:
While his vision and passing are both excellent, his desire to make a flashy pass has often lauded him both praise and criticism. The praise obviously followed the numerous successful attempts at no-look, backhand spin passes. The criticism, however, followed the unsuccessful ones that led to turnovers right in the middle of the ice. Still, he did seem to real that in as the season went on which led to fewer risky plays, but also fewer highlight-reel worthy snippets.
When he isn’t trying to make the highlight reel pass, Hughes is actually really good at making plays in his own zone. This is especially true when it comes to clearing the zone in a smart, composed manner to avoid turnovers or icing calls.
Between this and Kournianos’ profile, it is likely that decision making on the puck is something Hughes will have to work on with whoever drafts him. The good news is that Share-Cohen (and Kournianos too) noted that Hughes is capable of making smarter decisions on the puck. While that may have led to fewer attempts to show off he is capable of much more, it was to the team’s benefit to not be so risky. That does show a capability of change throughout a season - even if it does not help his draft stock, it is something that will make coaches appreciate him.
Smaht Scouting was one of the sites to rank Hughes just inside of the first round. That may change with a later ranking. However, this December profile by Josh Tessler of Jack Hughes does a good job of explaining in detail why he has grown to like the player. The profile is excellent at going into the mechanics of his game, noting even some issues that Hughes could stand to work on. Tessler specifically highlighted his shooting and passing as areas where his mechanics at both need work. Here is a part of the reason as to why:
When it comes to Hughes’ shooting and passing ability, there are some things to address throughout the course of his NCAA and AHL development. Hughes is inconsistent with his passing and shooting. The issue is that he will try to position the puck slightly too far away from his body before attempting the pass or shot. By placing the puck wide and passing or shooting, you are limiting your ability to control exactly where you want the puck to go. It will also worsen his accuracy on shots from medium and low danger. His blade won’t be aligned with the net and thus you will notice his shots going wide. With that being said, you will notice wide shots off of a quick turn and shoot from medium range. It will also worsen his accuracy on shots from medium and low danger. His blade won’t be aligned with the net and thus you will notice his shots going wide. Hughes needs to work on cradling the puck much closer to his body before attempting a shot or pass.
A lot of Tessler’s report goes into the detail of pointing out how Hughes carries pucks in transition, how he responds off the puck, how he pivots while skating, and so forth. As much as Hughes may be seen as someone with a “high floor,” he has plenty to work on like pretty much any hockey prospect. That Tessler was able to identify how Hughes’ body positioning may betray him on passes may also explain some of the misses in his riskier reads. Improvements there (and with his pivots and winning pucks in open ice) will only serve Hughes to have a better chance at the pro level beyond college. Still, Tessler found a lot of good things to say about the player in line with what Kournianos and Share-Cohen noted in their respective profiles.
To put a bow on this section, Hughes was discussed in Elite Prospects’ NHL Draft Meeting in March, which was held to rank the players at that time. The Jack Hughes talk begins at 2:19:12 and lasts for about a minute and a half. Burke argued to place Hughes at 40th, which he was ranked back in March. He slipped a bit since. The main points brought up to justify his inclusion in their Top 64 at 40 by J.D. Burke and Mitch Brown were:
- Hughes has progressed during the season.
- Hughes has stood out for being able to take pucks inside from the boards.
- Hughes is not particularly creative or able to breakdown defenders in space one-on-one.
- He has good sense, good workrate, good defensive skills, and played on Northeastern’s Top 6 for most of the season.
- Hughes is thin and is easily knocked off the puck, but he knows how to position himself and prepare for pressure.
All together from what people have said, Hughes is a player who does work hard, he earned his way up in the lineup as a freshman, he can play well in his own end and he is, perhaps, surprisingly physical with a very active stick. The issues to his game would be with his mechanics (e.g. shooting, passing, pivoting), his decision making on the puck, his apparent lack of skill to take on defenders in space, and his size (read: make gains this Summer, young Jack). Generally positive, but again, like a lot of prospects, there is work to be done.
A Little Video
This may shock you, but it is a little tricky to find video of Jack Hughes. The Big Deal is just a bigger deal. But I did find this, which I believe is The Draft Analyst’s Youtube channel:
I think this two-plus minute video shows Hughes, wearing #27 for Northeastern, at his best offensively. You can see him set up a score under pressure behind the net. You can see him drive the net after a faceoff win, get in front of his defender from turning in, and be able to pot in a goal in close. You can see him win a puck in the neutral zone, kick off a 2-on-1 with his brother, and keep his shot low for a teammate (Jakov Novak) to bury the rebound. You can see him use his stick to knock a puck away at the Northeastern blueline from Max Crozier (Tampa Bay 4th round pick in 2019), retrieve it in motion, lead a 2-on-1 where he takes the shot and buries it against Providence. It is not a lot but it does show he does some have skill to make and finish plays. Hughes’ skating looked fine - he was able to dart ahead where needed. The one part where he drove the net after the faceoff win did show he can turn real well and, more importantly, work his way inside the defender.
Given the commentary of what other said about him, I wonder if the issue with his ranking dropping was whether he was able to demonstrate this more often in 2021-22. Maybe then he would be more highly ranked?
The one other highlight I found was in the middle of this highlight video of Northeastern’s win over Boston College in the Hockey East quarterfinals. Hughes wins a lofted puck, tossed it over to Sam Colangelo, drove the net and a trip from #4 on BC as Colangelo buried his shot to make it 3-0. Again, you can see the instincts to win the puck, make a quick pass ahead of pressure (both ahead and behind him), and continue driving ahead in case of a rebound opportunity. Those are good things. If you want to see more of “effort play,” move to 2:46 when Hughes saw Marshall Warren get away from Colangelo and try to make a last-ditch sliding block. While Hughes did not get it and Warren scored to make it 3-2, he surely did not miss by much.
An Opinion of Sorts
All together, Jack Hughes seems like a player that one can get behind but also will not be all that crucial to a team. Share-Cohen’s profile has the term “high floor” for him and I can believe it. It is not that he is devoid of talent. Hughes was a USNTDP member. He certainly was impressive enough to work his way up the lineup on a very good Northeastern team as a freshman. Yet, what most have praised him for is in line with a prospect who has plenty of pluses but not much upside. Hughes can be physical; he can play along the boards in spite of his lack of mass. Hughes is capable defensively and is good with his stickwork. Hughes works hard on the ice and is willing to defer to others. Those traits have merit but those are not uncommon skillsets throughout the pro game. Hughes is able to try to make plays, but he has simplified his game as the season went on to lessen mistakes. Which is good but if he is not going to be able to make reads or take on defenders well at the college level, then it will limit what he can do at the pro level. There are mechanical issues with some of his skills that need work; but that his talent only “flashes” is one that is not always something to work on. There is a lot about Hughes to like; and I do like quite a bit of it. He just does not appear to have an appreciably exceptional skill or set of skills that makes one think he could make a significant impact in the NHL in the next five or six years. If this was, say, 2002 and teams still had checking lines to fill out, then I would be more positive about Hughes’ prospects. But it’s not.
Even so, I do not doubt that Hughes will have a pro career. I very much think he will work his way to get into the NHL. He could be there for quite some time too. I just question if he would become anything beyond a bottom-six forward. Sure, those players have value but they’re not terribly difficult to find. The Devils found it in Jimmy Vesey for this past season and they found him in camp on a professional try-out. They can let him walk and find another player of his ilk fairly easy this Summer. To that end,
There is nothing wrong with that on its own. Yet, this may explain the wide variety in his rankings from various services and people - and why it has dropped as the season went on. I get the sense there was a hope he would show off more of his talent and that did not really happen. Between someone with a more flawed game but has a coveted skill or a lot of potential with the right amount of work or someone more reliable but limited in terms of what he could be in the future - someone like Hughes - I can see how the more reliable player would not rank so highly.
While the goal in a draft is to identify and pick players for the future, a team should generally aim higher than a potential role player within the first two rounds. Or at least in the first round and the early part of the second round. I can understand an argument that for a relatively “weak” draft class, picking a future pro player may be the better move than taking someone who carries more risk of not ever being a NHL player. Yet, I do not think the class is so weak that the Devils would have to make that rationalization for their second round pick, which is at 37th overall. There are likely going to be bigger swings to take - and we will profile who some of those options may be - at that point in the draft. If the Devils end up getting a late second rounder or if Hughes is available in the third round (and he might be!), then I think selecting Hughes there would be more appropriate. As the draft goes on, the “high floor” prospects become more attractive in my view. I think taking him at 37th overall would leave some more tantalizing prospects on the table.
All the same, I do wish Hughes the best as he continues his hockey at Northeastern. Despite the name, his game is very much his own and he will blaze his own path into pro hockey.
While I do not think the Devils should take Hughes with their second round pick, I do think he would be a fine third round pick or even a late second rounder. You may think otherwise. I would love to know your take on the other Jack Hughes in the comments. What do you think of Hughes’ freshman season at Northeastern? What did you like reading about him? What did you not like reading about him? How do you rate him among the other non-first round forwards in this draft? Would you want the Devils to take him? If so, when? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Hughes in the comments. Thank you for reading.