The Devils have been having their struggles in the past month-plus and the responsibility for said struggles can be spread around to multiple areas of the roster. One area it most certainly cannot be spread to, however, is in the immediate vicinity of Jack Hughes, who has been on an absolute tear while much of the rest of the team has been uneven at best. This weekend’s thrilling comeback OT victory over the Rangers was as cathartic as it was important in the standings after a pretty rough month of Devils hockey and, per usual, Jack Hughes was the engine, the fuel, and, at times, pretty much the whole damn vehicle driving the Devils to victory. Hughes figured into all three regulation goals in a pivotal victory in a January game with substantial playoff implications in Newark.
As the Devils have partially gotten things going in the right direction again over the past five games with a 3-1-1 record, nobody can claim more responsibility for stopping this skid than Hughes, who has ten points over this five-game stretch. Those ten points, eight of which are goals, correspond to him contributing a full 50% of all the goals the Devils have over the past five games. He has three multi-goal games in that stretch of five, he has 19 goals in his last 20 games, and the last time he had fewer than four shots on goal was ten games ago. He has 59(!!) shots on goal in his last nine games (over 6.5 per game). While a couple other players are doing some good things for the Devils of late (most notably Nico Hischier, who has points in seven straight himself), Hughes is currently driving the bus in a way that only Taylor Hall has touched in recent Devils history.
It truly is difficult to come up with enough superlatives for the way Hughes is playing in this recent stretch. Even with so many players having a rough December and remaining quiet into the New Year, Hughes has been on fire for well over a month now. And it’s not just on the scoresheet where Hughes is dominating, the Devils are beating teams up at 5v5 when Hughes is on the ice, to the tune of a 62.5% share of expected goals and a 67% share of the actual goals. Hughes is dominating on offense and not sacrificing anything on defense while he’s doing it. He is just as frequently snuffing out opponents’ opportunities with elite defensive stick work as he is punishing goalies with a shot that seems to get deadlier by the week. He’s the total package right now. You don’t just have to take my word for it either, as most sites in the business of evaluating players are in pretty solid agreement at this point:
You can also just watch him because it’s pretty hard to miss his impact at this point. Hughes is one of those places where the eye test and the stats converge in perfect harmony to a message of “yeah, this guy rocks.” Hughes is just 21 and he’s looking like a bona fide superstar when he’s on the ice for the Devils right now.
There’s been a lot of debate in the fanbase recently over who exactly should be lined up next to Hughes on the ice, but it’s starting to seem like it almost doesn’t matter. Erik Haula has been lined up next to Hughes for much of the season, ostensibly to take important faceoffs and serve as a defensively responsible running-mate for young Jack, and the results are pretty fantastic in that configuration, but Hughes also isn’t having much issue away from Haula, with his xG and actual goal shares only a shade behind where the two are together. It’s starting to seem like you could toss just about anybody out there next to Hughes at this point and get results. Hughes is nearing the Donk/Flibbet threshold where everyone next to him is going to look good and Hughes is pretty much crushing opponents on the scoreboard regardless of who is skating next to him right now.
Hughes is putting on a show nightly for Devils fans right now and it’s been a blast to watch him turn into the wrecking machine he’s been. Even with a mostly absentee bottom-six for an entire month, Hughes has kept on producing at a blistering pace. Teams just cannot stop him at the moment, and with the one-two punch of him and Hischier, the team has been able to steady themselves and pull out of the slide they had been in for much of December, even with the depth scoring remaining pretty much dormant. If this is what Jack Hughes is at age 21, that eight-year deal signed last year is going to look like one hell of a steal for a long time coming.