Let me start this week by saying one thing. I’m completely and utterly biased in this department. I grew up in a household with four brothers, so I had connections with all my brothers. Some better than others. Some lasted much longer than others. But unquestionably, whenever we would play sports together, we had a sixth sense for how the other would play out there. And it’s from this perspective, that I write this week’s edition of FanFirst Friday.
Growing up with three older brothers (and one younger) wasn’t always easy due to the incessant teasing, the general testosterone-infused interactions and the incredibly high level of competition. Whether it was backyard football or volleyball, playing hockey on our local frozen pond, street hockey, basketball with our Dad...even family game nights of Monopoly led to one of my older brothers putting his fist through a load-bearing wall that had actual concrete in it. I’ve never seen a hand bleed so profusely in my life.
Regardless, it led me to a conclusion. Relationships between siblings are unique and difficult to understand unless you happen to live in the household with that group. Still, even though my relationships with my brothers were all different and unique, we all seemed to have a great unspoken connection and understanding of each other whenever we would compete. I’ve also written a Transformers comic book series in my other life and I used my sibling relationships as the inspiration for the manner in which the characters would speak and interact. Needless to say, I’m a big proponent of uniting siblings together if at all possible.
The New Jersey Devils have had a few siblings play for the team in their 40-year history. But very few played for the team at the same time. The Giontas (Brian and Stephen) come to mind. The Devils had the Broten brothers play for their franchise at two different junctures, one to great success, the other not as much. The Niedermayers, Rob and Scott, both played for the Devils but not at the same time. Claude and Jocelyn Lemieux also played for the Devils, but again, at different times. Yet here’s the thing about all of these siblings. None of them were seemingly as talented as a pair as Jack and Luke Hughes will likely be.
Granted, I’m making a leap of faith to believe that Luke Hughes will not only be a quality NHL defenseman, but with his elite edgework, his off-the-charts hockey IQ and his ability to be a one-man breakout machine, I don’t think it’s unfair to assume his greatness, even if it doesn’t happen immediately.
Luke Hughes is currently playing at the University of Michigan and just won the Big10 hockey championship with his squad and was named to the All-Tournament team (Seamus Casey—also a Devils draft pick—was named to the team as well). The hockey tournament to crown a college hockey champion starts this weekend. Michigan is in the Allentown regional and plays Friday night. If they win, they will also play on Sunday with a chance to head to the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay on April 6 and if the Wolverines win their first game, they play for the college hockey championship on April 8.
So the hypotheticals are pretty simple here. If Michigan wins both games this upcoming weekend, Devils fans might have to wait until next season to witness Luke Hughes’ debut in red and black. Unless the team wants him to play the final two games against Buffalo and Washington the week of April 10th. If the Wolverines bow out early this weekend, then the Luke Hughes debut could happen as early as next week. I bought tickets to the Penguins and Blue Jackets games at the Rock the first week in April with the hope that I could possibly be there live for some Luke Hughes magic.
Regardless of what happens, when the Devils took Luke with the fourth overall pick on July 23, 2021, I was absolutely ecstatic. Safe to say that Jack was as well:
And it was, in part, because I have come to believe that having Luke and Jack in the same lineup will elevate the entire team. As I said above, Luke is elite in college. He’s scored some ridiculous goals and has improved defensively quite a lot year over year. I’ve watch a LOT of Michigan games and while he still has the occasional positioning issue on defense, he’s light years better than he was last season.
So we aren’t talking Scott and Rob Niedermayer here. We aren’t talking Brian and Stephen Gionta. We are talking about two absolutely ELITE talents who share the same parents, the same DNA, grew up playing hockey together at every opportunity and are absolutely psyched to make it to the NHL together.
Maybe I’m making a huge assumption here that the Hughes brothers in New Jersey will be more Sedin-like than they will be. But I can’t help but think that given how close they seem publicly, that it won’t translate to something really special on the ice. Maybe I’m dead wrong on this and since the Hughes brothers play different positions, it won’t exactly be the Stastny brothers. And I know it isn’t exactly great to go with you gut in this day of analytics, but something tells me we are about to be in for something special. In addition to them both being exceptional skaters, they both have fantastic shots (though Jack hasn’t had much luck with his lately). I also think they will both drive each other to be better constantly.
I couldn’t be more excited for Luke’s debut. But I imagine it’s nowhere near as exciting as it is for Jack. We are on the cusp of a new era in New Jersey. It’s the Hughes Brothers Era. We are all just living in it. Buckle up, New Jersey, because this should be a hell of a ride.