New Jersey Devils: All eyes on Jack Hughes to step up in Hischier’s absence

Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

There will now be added pressure on Jack Hughes heading into the 2020-21 NHL season.

Training Camps officially open today for those seven teams who didn’t get invited to the expanded postseason format in 2019-20, including the New Jersey Devils who will be looking to Jack Hughes to step up.

Although excitement is firmly in the air with the NHL on the cusp of a triumphant return, the Devils were dealt a crushing blow on Wednesday when it was announced that forward Nico Hischier is week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

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The center injured his leg during training in his homeland of Switzerland earlier this month and, as a result, will now miss the start of Training Camp.

Hischier could also be a doubt for the start of the regular season with New Jersey playing host to the Boston Bruins on Jan. 14, 2021, which would be a big blow considering that the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has developed into a franchise cornerstone and potentially a future Captain for the Devils.

With 135 points (51 G, 84 A) in 209 regular season games, Hischier is his team’s No. 1 center and, with Jesper Bratt also absent for the start of Training Camp, New Jersey has taken a big hit down the middle.

Therefore, it will be up to Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, to really step up to the plate in Training Camp for the New Jersey Devils.

Now, granted, there was already going to be pressure on Hughes heading into the 2020-21 season given that he is expected to take the next big leap in his development after an up-and-down rookie year in 2019-20.

It wasn’t that bad before people start claiming otherwise despite the 21 points (7 G, 14 A) and plus / minus rating of -26 in 61 games, although it is important to keep a sense of perspective when evaluating a then 18-year-old still cutting his teeth in the NHL in his first year in the majors.

There were flashes of the brilliance that convinced many that Hughes is the best American-born center to come out of the Draft in quite a while, and you have to go through learning curves and tough spells in order to get better.

That’s exactly what Hughes has done throughout an incredibly lengthy offseason, too, piling on muscle to a 5-foot-10 frame and ensuring that he will a lot tougher to play against and able to handle the physical nature of the NHL in 2020-21.

Jack Hughes (86)
Jack Hughes (86) of the New Jersey Devils.(Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images) /

He looks like a man now in terms of his physique, and that will open up a lot of doors for the uber-talented forward in the offensive zone, while also allowing him to protect the puck better and make the kind of plays that a lot of other players can only dream of.

Built a lot tougher, Hughes now has the platform to really focus on what he does best and that is to both score and create and create magic out of nothing.

Hughes will also be a lot better for having a year in the NHL under his belt, and that experience coupled with the work put in during the offseason could translate to a breakout year.

And the New Jersey Devils need that.

With Hischier out for the start of Training Camp and potentially for the first couple of weeks of the regular season, the Devils will need Hughes to elevate his play and establish himself as this team’s No. 1 center until Hischier is back.

He’ll have more than adequate weapons on his wing in Kyle Palmieri, and that should help Hughes to provide the offensive punch New Jersey will need in order to just stay alive in what is an incredibly stacked East Division.

Even if Hischier is back in a couple of weeks and ready for Opening Night, he will be a little off the pace so it will be up to Hughes to be ready to come out flying and really spearhead this Devils offense.

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If Jack Hughes can put together an impressive Training Camp and then hit the ground running from the first drop of the puck, then that should make the temporary absence of Nico Hischier a lot easier to swallow for the New Jersey Devils who will need all the help they can get in 2020-21.

And a huge breakout season from their elite forward would certainly make life a whole lot easier in what is going to be a weird year in the NHL.