New Jersey Devils: Call Jack Hughes a bust no longer

Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/Pool Photos-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/Pool Photos-USA TODAY Sports /

For a small but maddeningly vocal segment of #HockeyTwitter, New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes is a certified bust.

Granted, his rookie season wasn’t good, like at all, a situation made worse by the midseason trade of Taylor Hall and a pandemic-shortened season, but really, a bust? An 18-year-old is a bust after 61 games of professional hockey without so much as a game in the AHL or the NCAA? I mean for crying out loud, Hughes didn’t even play his natural position, center, for a solid chunk of the season, instead kicking it over to the wing to play alongside fellow first overall pick Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri.

I get we’ve become spoiled to seeing rookie first overall picks like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and even Hischier hit the ice skating as a rookie, but just because Hughes’ 21 point rookie season left a ton to be desired, that doesn’t mean he can’t still get better with a bit of time to get bigger, faster, and stronger.

*spoiler alert* Hughes did, in fact, use his offseason to get bigger, faster, and stronger, and if the first four games of the season are of any indication, it would appear the results are better than anyone could have hoped for.

Needless to say, if you are one of those unfortunate fans who once through Jack Hughes was a bust, you’ll be changing your tune in no time.

Jack Hughes looks like the player the New Jersey Devils envisioned in 2019.

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With Nico Hischier out indefinitely with a foot injury, Jack Hughes has been playing top-line center for Lindy Ruff‘s New Jersey Devils alongside Kyle Palimari and legendary rookie winger Yegor Sharangovich.

With an opportunity to quite literally run the show without another top-pick breathing down his neck – or playing on the same line – would Hughes continue to struggle, or would he overcome the adversity in his path and finally prove himself a worthy link in a long chain of successful first overall picks?

Well, based on the NHL’s official Twitter header being Orlando’s favorite son, I think we both already know the answer to that question, dude.

Over his first three games of action, Hughes has played like a man on fire. He’s skating confidently, has a keen eye for getting his teammates involved on offense, and has even started taking some increasingly bold shots the likes of which we haven’t seen since his pre-NHL highlight reels.

Through three games, Hughes has amassed six points – four assists and two goals.

That’s really good.

Just for context, in 2019-20, it took Hughes nine games to score a pair of goals and two more – 11 total – to score six points.

But wait, it gets better. The points Hughes has been scoring aren’t ticky-tacky flukes either. No, Hughes has been living up to the playmaker moniker many attached to him during the pre-draft process, leading the team in average shifts, forward minutes, and puck possession.

Heck, the young center has even found a bit of an aggressive streak as a scorer too, having bull-rushed his way into the blue behind Alexandar Georgiev for an incredibly fun goal that you can check out below.

To paraphrase crying Terrell Owens, “That’s my franchise center.

As crazy as it may have been to believe not one month ago, Hughes is now tied for the most points of any player in the entire NHL despite some teams having played one more game. He’s the Devils’ assists leader, the team’s second-leading goal scorer, and unquestionably the team’s best player save MacKenzie Blackwood, who put on an absolute show in New Jersey’s first Hudson River rivalry win of the season where he blocked 47-50 shots in 60 minutes of action.

Related Story. New Jersey Devils: Aaron Dell is a swell addition in net. light

Factor in the emergence of Sharangovich and Ty Smith – who is off to his own statistically significant season – and suddenly the Devils are one of the more exciting teams in the NHL – a team that will only get better when Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Aaron Dell make it to town and onto the ice.

So, yeah, keep calling Jack Hughes a bust if you must, but just know that it’s becoming increasingly embarrassing with each passing game.

Next. Boston Bruins should absolutely be all in on Kyle Palmieri to help solve fatal flaw. dark

When the New Jersey Devils took the ice versus the New York Rangers for their third game of the season, many dubbed it some iteration of ‘The Clash of the First Overall Picks.’ One was a plucky 19-year-old with sky-high expectations to transform a Metropolitan squad into perennial title contenders, and the other was Alexis Lafreniere, who has the exact same expectations but has yet to be straddled by the ‘bust’ label. While both players showed flashes of being legitimate stars moving forward, Jack Hughes was unequivocally the better of the two and is the key reason why the Devils’ record is what it is.