The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, was named as an All Star for the 2024 NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto. However, Hughes injured his arm (wrist? forearm?) towards the end of the win over Chicago on January 5. He has since been out of action. He will remain out of action for this weekend’s festivities. The NHL announced today that his teammate Jesper Bratt will replace Jack Hughes in the All-Star games. Also known as: Current leading scorer of the New Jersey Devils, Jesper Bratt.
Those worried about Jack Hughes participating and risking an injury before returning can breathe a sigh of relief. Jack Hughes will not even participate in the All-Stars Skills competition. Mat Barzal, who was already on the All-Star roster, will replace Hughes in those skills competition. The Big Deal is inactive for the upcoming weekend’s events.
This is not to say he will not be there at all. He will be. He will join his older brother Quinn Hughes as a co-captain for the All-Star Player Draft. Since The Big Deal is a Devil and Hughes is a Canuck, this shifted the rosters a bit. The NHL has sorted that out by making Elias Pettersson - Quinn’s teammate and Vancouver offensive machine - a member of Team Hughes already.
While the All-Star Games may not hold the same juice as they did, say, 30 years ago, they have always been exhibitions to show off the league’s premier players. I can appreciate the NHL wanting to have Jack Hughes in attendance at all even if he is not playing. They know he’s a Big Deal and want to show him off. I think this is a fair compromise as to how to keep him involved without risking any further damage. Coincidentally, I do not see Matthew Tkachuk involved this year.
As for Bratt, this is a well-deserved acknowledgement of his season. The haters and losers, of which there are some, will lament that Bratt does not have It and does not work hard enough and does not step up enough and so forth. All very odd criticisms for a guy who leads the Devils in assists (31, just passed Jack Hughes), points (50), power play goals (6), even strength points (30), shots (14), and game winning goals (5). Only Tyler Toffoli has scored more goals than Bratt too, it’s not like #63 has been a slouch with 19 in 47 games. As of this writing, Bratt’s 50 points in 47 games tied him for 23rd in league scoring. He is tied with Sidney Crosby, Jason Robertson, Victor Hedman, Carter Verhaeghe, and Filip Forsberg in points. Crosby and Forsberg, coincidentally, are going to the same All-Star Weekend as Bratt. Bratt’s 50 is just behind Matthew Tkachuk and Barzal - also going to Toronto for the event - by a point. The larger point is that Bratt has had a far better season than his critics may want to admit. Yes, January was not that great of a month for Bratt with just five goals, seven points, and 51 shots on net. (It wasn’t that great for a lot of the Devils!) But that really should not deny his whole season, where he has been among the better scorers in the whole league.
Not that the All-Star roster selections are ever going to include this, but Bratt has been no joke in 5-on-5 play either. His on-ice rates have been among the best on the team with the added advantage of being one of 7 players whom have outscored their opponents when they take a shift. It is true that in 5-on-5 play, Bratt and Hughes do go together like peanut butter and jelly. But apart, the Devils have done quite well overall when Bratt takes a shift without Jack Hughes. If anything, Bratt has been shooting below his usual shooting percentage in 5-on-5, which makes his production a bit more impressive. Again, this is a bit in the weeds for those who select players for an All-Star Game. I bring it up to show that Bratt has been really, really good this season. Well worth his contract extension so far.
Further, this is another big achievement in what has become an incredible and unlikely career path. Remember that Bratt was a sixth round draft pick in 2016. He was picked out of the second tier of Swedish hockey and while he had good numbers, they certainly did not jump off the page. After one more season in the Allsvenskan. Bratt took an opportunity at the training camp in 2017, never let go to make the team outright, and has stayed in the NHL ever since. All that alone is unlikely for any player, much less a sixth round selection. Never mind becoming a top-six regular, a scoring winger the team relies on (from 2021 onward), getting a seven-figure deal after his ELC ended, avoiding arbitration on his way to getting his current $63 million deal, and owning a career line of 326 points in 436 games and counting. We can now add one more accomplishment to the list: an appearance at the NHL All-Star Weekend.
Congratulations to Jesper Bratt for this honor. May he shine (and avoid getting hurt) as he replaces The Big Deal in the games this weekend.