I’m writing this on Wednesday morning, largely because I’m actually attending the Los Angeles Kings home opener against the Colorado Avalanche tonight and I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow for some pre-op stuff. I’m having a knee issue operated on next week so I’m running around like crazy this week. So by the time this publishes, the New Jersey Devils will have played their first game against the Detroit Red Wings at home and be preparing to take on the Arizona Coyotes in the next game tonight.
But something was published this week which I felt was top tier content for hockey media. Some would say it’s not hard to accomplish that given the standards of hockey media and all the cuts that have transpired over the years, but seriously, this is must watch stuff. And I’d probably say that no matter who the subject of the examination was, but it just so happens that this week, Dimitri Filipovic and Darryl Belfry take a deep dive into Devils superstar Jack Hughes.
There are so many fascinating parts of this, but one thing that stood out to me above all else and it actually relates to an interview Jack did with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek for 32 Thoughts:
One phrase that Belfry used in relation to Jack was the “genesis of genius” and it stuck with me simply because I thought a lot about the Hughes interview with Elliotte and Jeff since it happened. I was actually stunned to hear Jack recall some of his favorite moments from 2022-2023. Not merely how the play developed and where he was in relation to the goal but who was actually defending him at the time. It reminded me of Wayne Gretzky, who was renowned for having a new photographic memory for moments he had on the ice.
But, in a way, it was also shocking to me since I’d never really thought of Jack Hughes as being this genius kid with an incredible hockey mind. He just was a phenomenal hockey talent who had a gift for creating new lingo around my household like, “I’m grabbing a Gato and the Devils are really on a heater right now.” Combine the “hip” new lingo with all the wakeboarding videos from his offseasons and his ability to basically speak in every form of cliche when being interviewed by the local media, it was an awakening for me, at least.
Is Jack Hughes a brilliant kid who studies the game relentlessly and can figure out ways of beating opponents by having a computer-like gameplan? The video discussion by Filipovic and Belfry would suggest that is the case. The input from Jack when questioned by 32 Thoughts would also enforce this. Igor Shesterkin, a victim quite a few times of Hughes, confirmed this offseason that Jack Hughes is his most difficult opponent to face right now. It’s easy to see why Shesterkin, imo the best goalie in the NHL right now, would say this:
I re-watched all of #NJDevils 86's goals vs NYR, including the playoffs, expecting a pattern. Nope!— Bryce Salvador (@BryceSalvador) April 27, 2023
Jack scored 7 different ways:
BH Topshelf Glove
FH, Topshelf Glove
Over pad, under the blocker
FH, Topshelf Blocker
Deke, FH, BH, FH pic.twitter.com/sThbnjVzJE
Hughes is ridiculously unpredictable, which was highlighted very clearly by the PDOcast. He’s developed such a good and accurate shot that his distribution of the puck has become ever more deadly. In other words, like Belfry says, by using that weapon to open up and attract defenders to try to keep him stifled, other areas of the ice open up. If he was a guy who always sought the pass, then he becomes easier to shut down. Instead, that lethal accuracy makes him scary. Connor McDavid has learned this as well after receiving prompts from teammate Leon Draisaitl to shoot the puck more frequently he scored 60 goals last year. Hughes needed no prompting. He had the fifth most shots on goal last year. In the entire league.
Now some would argue that part of that was maybe Jack didn’t trust Erik Haula to score like he could himself. Haula was a frequent linemate of Jack last year, largely because Jack was atrocious on faceoffs. Now if Jack plays with Tyler Toffoli and Jesper Bratt for the majority of the year, will be look to distribute more and shoot less? I don’t think so because, as I’ve learned this offseason, Jack is a REALLY smart hockey mind. He should recognize that his shot opens up opportunities for offense all over the ice. And my bet is he simply knows this.
The Hughes love has just blossomed all over the NHL. He’s the second best selling sweater in the league right now:
Hughes being second is quite a coup for the little #NJDevils engine who could. Also, I get that Connor McDavid is a hockey robot built in a lab with very little personality, but he's still possibly the most exciting player I've seen in my lifetime. How is he not on this list? https://t.co/kNpV77i5GN— Tyler Bleszinski (@papiblez) October 10, 2023
It’s incredible to see this. Some are even predicting Hughes will have a Hart Trophy-sized season. As many of you know, the Devils have only had one player win the Hart Trophy and it was Taylor Hall’s career year when he basically, along with Keith Kinkaid, carried the Devils unexpectedly into the playoffs. Yet, despite three Cups in Devils history, and two Hall of Fame defensemen named Stevens and Niedermayer and the goalie with the most wins in the history of the NHL in Brodeur, have never had a player who has captured the imagination of people outside of the Garden State. Ilya Kovalchuk was a breathtaking player with unparalleled strength and skill, but he was never the superstar that Jack has quickly become.
Another element that makes Hughes so good is his constant change of pace. Belfry talks about it in the video as well, where he can intentionally slow down and make defensemen think that they have the opportunity to gap up on him or body him and then he uses those elite edges to instantly clown them. Seth Jarvis was interviewed by 32 Thoughts, he used Jack as the example that he strives to emulate. He said Hughes is a master of regulating his speed depending on the situation and that Jarvis wants to stop going 100 miles an hour all the time and become more like Jack.
All of this is to just remind everyone, not that any Devils fan needs this, that we have entered an unprecedented era in our fandom. Because of the Lou Lamoriello philosophies on never seeking personal glory, the Devils never tried to market unbelievably skilled guys like Elias and Niedermayer and even Brodeur. But the Devils have never had someone that the league experts were saying in the same breath with Gretzky and Lemieux. They have a player now named Hughes who is being discussed with McDavid and MacKinnon.
Hughes is quite simply one of those players that immediately attracts your eye when you’re watching the ocean of chaos that is hockey. He does things that mere mortals can’t even dream of executing. And all the while, he openly touts gato in spite of the league being sponsored by the now bankrupt Biosteel. He’s a lot more complex and a lot more thoughtful than I ever thought he was. And that just makes me love the guy even more. The playoffs helped contribute to this. Remember Jack throwing a hit on Chris Kreider, his All Star teammate two seasons back:
If you don’t think this kid is all in on hoisting that Cup, getting a hundo while memorizing all the plays he has in 2023-2024, then you haven’t been paying attention. Thank the good fates above for Jack Hughes. Oh, and the Devils just so happen to have another member from the Hughes gene pool joining the team this season.
It’s a great time to be a Devils fan. And it’s been way too long since we’ve been able to say that. Welcome to the new season, Devils fans!!!