After a tough introduction to life in the National Hockey League, Jack Hughes is busy proving this year that his rough rookie season was just a mirage, and he’s already delivering on his promise of morphing into an absolute star in this league.
In a recent interview with the New York Post, Hughes was asked a number of questions in a Q&A format by the Post’s Steve Serby, and this one was posed to the elite center: You were quoted last year : “I’m not a great player in this league yet – not even close.” Do you have a timetable for when you think you can be great?
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And this was Jack Hughes’ answer: “I’m getting there. My game’s continuing to get better each game. I just gotta keep working, keep playing. I know one of these days, sooner or later, I’m gonna be a star in the league, and we’re gonna be a great team in the NHL.”
Well, and while the New York Post branded it as a bold guarantee in their headline, there is no doubt that Hughes is already on his way to becoming a star in the National Hockey League and he has the ability, the intangibles and the incredibly high ceiling needed to go all the way.
Hughes’ rough rookie year, in which he recorded 21 points (7 G, 14 A) in 61 games, has been well documented so we won’t cover old ground, but the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft has clearly taken some key lessons from last season and he’s a different player so far in 2020-21.
Jack Hughes already well on his way to becoming a star for the New Jersey Devils
Starting by reporting to Training Camp bigger having piled on the muscle during the offseason, Hughes has been lights out for the New Jersey Devils since Opening Night and he’s been a big factor in why the Devils have been one of the surprise stories of the 2020-21 season so far, posting a 6-5-2 record and staying competitive in what is a loaded East Division, while they have games in hand having been shutdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak earlier in the year.
Hughes has attacked the NHL with a vengeance this year, recording four goals and tallying seven assists for 11 points in 13 games with a plus / minus rating of +5, while he’s averaging 19:46 of total ice time and playing top-line minutes for the Devils.
Granted, the 19-year-old will revert back to the second-line now Nico Hischier has returned, but that could work out for Hughes given that the Devils have a lethal one-two punch down the middle and having Hischier back in the lineup will give opponents matchup problems and free up Hughes to wreak havoc.
Of course, there are areas Jack Hughes can improve in, including in the faceoff circle where he has a career win percentage of 35.0 percent and a success rate of 31.9 percent this season, but he’s still only 19-years-old and he has already made an exponential leap from his rookie year to his sophomore season.
He will only continue to improve and he is playing with a real swagger this season, as perfectly illustrated by his last outing for the Devils against the Washington Capitals on Sunday night. Although New Jersey blew a two-goal lead to lose 4-3, Hughes still had a sizeable impact on the game.
There was this sublime play where Hughes toe-dragged the puck to make Capitals defenseman Brenden Dillon look absolutely foolish, before having a shot saved. It was an absolutely filthy move and, while it didn’t result in the lamp being lit, it was just proof of the insane talent that Hughes has in his locker.
Hughes did of course go on to score in the game, displaying his high hockey IQ to get out in-front of a Capitals defenseman to get to a perfect feed from Andreas Johnsson and switching to his backhand to beat Craig Anderson for his fourth goal of the year, displaying a deadly mix of vision, skill and a killer instinct that will allow him to go all the way in the NHL.
On pace to smash his points total from his rookie year, Jack Hughes is playing at the peak of his powers right now and his generational talent is really starting to shine through and he’s proving why he was considered one of the most naturally gifted American-born players to come out of the Draft in recent years. So, while the New York Post may call Jack Hughes’ claims of becoming a star in the National Hockey League “bold,” there is no doubt that he is already delivering on his promise and he’s well on his way to becoming exactly that and potentially a lot more for the New Jersey Devils.