Through three games New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes looks like a completely different player than he did last year. It took him seven games last year to record his first point. In just three games, Hughes has six points tied atop the leader board. And it is no coincidence Hughes is playing better, he has the body now to compete in the NHL. And it is showing on the stat sheet.
Hughes is stronger on the puck and is out muscling opposing players. Not only that his explosive speed and quick hands are there as well. He is looking like the player that was drafted number one by the Devils in 2019. Now, this did not happen overnight. Hughes is benefitting from having 10-months off to put on his man weight where he made it his mission to become bigger and stronger.
Last season, Hughes was 18 years old jumping from the US National Development Program to playing in the National Hockey League. He had no experience playing against men and it showed. Having that year to develop and adjust to playing against men helps. Regardless if it is overseas or in college helps with the transition to the NHL. Not to mention there were a lot of expectations on him to play well from the start being the number one overall pick.
Everyone knows what happened last season. He didn’t record a point in his first six games. Finished with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 61 games. At times he showed signs of his old self, but they few and far between. Many people wrote him off. But that fueled Hughes in the off-season to come out and prove people wrong.
“This year was important for me mentally and physically to get ready and be ready to go for a big year,” Jack Hughes said. “I’m excited and I’m confident and I’m ready for a breakout year.”
Most players do not have 10 months to train. Jack took advantage of that. Who is to say Hughes would be seeing the same results if it was a normal season? That is a tough question to answer, but clearly having the time off helped his game.
“I think you can see some of the strength he has this year versus last year, “Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said. “He made a commitment to becoming a better player. I think he understands the way I want him to play. And he is getting rewarded with ice time.
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The Devils are off to a fast start and Jack Hughes is a big reason why. It doesn’t hurt that head coach Lindy Ruff’s coaching style fits his game. His new-found confidence was on display during the Devils 4-3 win New York Rangers on Tuesday night. There Hughes picked up his third multiple-point game of the season, including two goals. He had three in his entire rookie campaign. Hughes had the chance for a four-point campaign, but P.K. Subban‘s goal was called back on an offside challenge.
“(My confidence) is obviously high,” Hughes said after the game. “I think it’s always been high but we’re building and I’m building personally. Obviously, Lindy has a lot of faith in me so I got to deliver and we’ve been able to do that so far.”
Jack will need to continue to pull his weight as the number one centre on the Devils, especially with Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier, not in the lineup. However, if three games are any indication, Jack Hughes can do it.