On April 6, 2023, the New Jersey Devils absolutely demolished the Columbus Blue Jackets, 8-1. This was good. While the Devils were routing the Jackets, Michigan took on Quinnipiac in the Frozen Four semifinals in Tampa Bay. The winner: a national championship against Minnesota. The loser: Their season was over. Devils fans and hockey fans have heard repeatedly that the New Jersey Devils, be it from Tom Fitzgerald or Dan MacKinnon, intended to sign Michigan defenseman Luke Hughes once his college season was over. Quinnipiac beat Michigan, 5-2. The wait for Luke Hughes to be signed began.
It has ended this morning on April 8, 2023. The New Jersey Devils announced that Luke Hughes has been signed to a three-season entry level contract. Further, Luke Hughes went up to Boston for this day. He signed the contract in person with GM Tom Fitzgerald. He gave a brief Hughes-ian statement to the social media team. More importantly, he participated in the Devils’ morning skate in Boston. The intent, per Tom Fitzgerald, is that he will play in some games with the Devils as per Tom Fitzgerald in place of some players with the playoffs starting in two weeks.
This is an exciting signing. Luke Hughes was drafted at fourth overall in the 2021 NHL Draft to much elation and enthusiasm. He went to Michigan and effectively followed the path of older brother, Quinn. Two seasons at Michigan wherein he demonstrated he was just on another level talent-wise in college and move on to the NHL. It has worked rather well for Quinn as he has been a point machine for a sad Vancouver franchise. Luke is taller than Quinn - he’s 6’2”, Quinn is 5’10” - and Luke out-produced in college than Quinn. Quinn had ten goals and 52 assists in two seasons with Michigan. Luke had 17 goals and 22 assists as a freshman and ten and 38 assists in this past season for a total of 27 goals and 60 assists. It was apparent from Michigan games that Luke Hughes was akin to their version of Adam Fox or Cale Makar. A defenseman who just oozed so much offensive talent and skating ability to transition into a fourth forward while being more than capable to backcheck. Luke Hughes has grown like you would expect from a fourth overall selection. Look at the growth since his draft season. Now he is a New Jersey Devil.
It is worth noting that should Luke Hughes play one game, his entry level contract will start this season. I am not the greatest fan of burning the season early just for a handful of games as I think he is going to command a pretty penny after a few seasons in the NHL. But it is not my money, it is not my cap to manage, and I can understand that Luke Hughes’ talent could be wasted in the AHL right now. The man was a top tier player in the nation, captained the United States at the 2023 WJCs, and played in the 2022 World Championships for America on top of WJC duties. This is a prospect that warrants a NHL look. I do not see how he needs further seasoning in the minors first. (Correction #1: Apparently, the ELC begins this season regardless if Luke Hughes plays. Thanks to Chris Calabrese for pointing this out through Section 9.1 of the CBA in the comments.)
By the way, that NHL look will not happen tonight per Lindy Ruff via Sam Kasan. A debut could be against Buffalo on Tuesday and in Washington on Thursday.
The Devils know this and that is why he is with New Jersey now. He cannot play for Utica in their postseason anyway. It makes little sense to throw a new guy in the middle of a team still battling for a playoff spot. He is signed with the Devils, a team with nothing to play for in their final three games. The Devils are locked in for making the playoffs. The 2022-23 season is one of the best in franchise history. Sure, they could still jump Carolina for first in the division and they may want to avoid falling to third place. But neither are critical. The Devils are in a position to rest a guy or two ahead of the playoffs, so why not see what Luke Hughes does now? If he contributes, then it is all the more reason to get onboard the hype train. If he struggles, then so what? He’s a 19-year old defenseman coming right out of college playing in the NHL. It would not be that much of a surprise if it takes a training camp, preseason, and some early NHL work to get some needed experience and grow from there. It is not like the Devils need to beat Buffalo and Washington next week, although I would hope they do so. This is a no-lose situation for Luke Hughes to play any of the final three games of the season or the Devils who want to see what they have and what to focus on in the offseason.
There is are some losers with this signing and it is with the handful of critics of Luke Hughes. It is worth noting that they are taking a ‘L’ today and deserve the heat for it.
- [NAME REDACTED] trying to undercut Luke Hughes before the 2021 NHL Draft, claiming from some “character recon” that Luke Hughes would not be their choice and would stay away. The same [NAME REDACTED] who also claimed when the Devils did draft Luke Hughes that it was made by the marketing department since they did not pick William Eklund. At the risk of giving [NAME REDACTED] way more attention than deserved, I will point out that Luke Hughes has done nothing remotely close to concerning with respect to his “character” at Michigan. There was no public incident. No awkward statement. No Jon Merrill-style leaving of the program. Anything perceived from this apparent “recon” did not keep USA Hockey from having him captain the WJC team or Michigan from giving him an ‘A’ this season. [NAME REDACTED] is not in the NHL right now and this signing should be one more reason why they should have as much power as I do in the front office. (Why is it [NAME REDACTED]? It is because the last time I mentioned the name, [NAME REDACTED] went over my head to my boss to proclaim harassment by referencing their public statement of dumbness. Say what you want about Sean Fitz-Gerald, Scott Burnside, and other take merchants, but they do not act like a tattling child when they get some public criticism on the Internet, which has been formed by public criticism of all kinds.)
- Lauren Kelly of Elite Prospects tweeted this during the WJCs:
maybe we just need to accept that l*** h&ghes just isn't good— Lauren Kelly (@laurkelly24) December 28, 2022
- Oh, Lauren, Lauren, Lauren. Censoring his name as if the name Luke Hughes will conjure up some kind of demon? Overreacting to what was, what, one or two WJC games? Please hold the ‘L’ in today’s signed ELC. At least you did not delete this. Although, you should have.
- Those who want defensemen to DEFEND and nothing more. This is not specific to Luke Hughes, but it is a group I have far more respect for than the previous two people because they are not coming from a bad place. I get it. Defense is in the position’s name. One needs to be decent at it. The game has evolved and defensemen are given a lot more leeway to not be Stevens-esque stoppers provided they provide offense to make up for it. Think Damon Severson when he is not having a catastrophe. Think Dougie Hamilton in this season. Think Cale Makar, Sam Girard, Adam Fox, and many other defenders. Luke Hughes is the next step. Yes, he will need to work to improve his defense. I am not disputing this anymore than I would dispute it is dark at nighttime. This is true for any 19-year old prospect jumping into the NHL, even if he was given prospect profiles claiming he was the next Rod Langway. This is also hockey, a game of mistakes. Luke Hughes will be fine provided he does not have the hockey IQ of Miles Wood and he is coached well - which he will be under Ryan McGill. As I stated earlier, Luke Hughes does not need to be great immediately. Time is on the Devils and Luke’s side to improve.
- Those who demand initials for nameplates. OK, this is not really a group or critics. But they will not get to see a “L. Hughes” on the back of the jersey this season. It will be Hughes wearing #43. Ryan Novozinsky confirmed this. Make your jersey choices as you see fit.
And so this is a time to be happy. To be excited. To appreciate the history being made. Yes, history. Two Jewish brothers playing on the same team is a NHL first to be made soon when Luke and Jack play in the same game. (Thanks to Rob Taub for pointing that out.) I am pretty sure Luke and Jack playing in the same game will be the first time two brothers will play for the Devils at the same time unless I am blanking on Brian and Stephen Gionta playing together or something like that. (Correction #2: This is false, this did happen on the Devils once before. The Sundstrom twins, Patrik and Peter, played on 1989-90 Devils. Thanks to MedicSBK for pointing that out in the comments.) Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec have been the latest additions to a prospect pool that could help put the Devils into contendership. Now that the Devils may be there already, these two could push them further into greatness. One has been cooking in Utica. Luke Hughes is now signed to a NHL ELC. As the meme says: It’s happening. And it is great.
Please leave your reactions to the Luke Hughes ELC in the comments. Thank you for reading.