The Devils are scoring goals at a high clip. Jack Hughes is front and center during a hot stretch that’s seen them score seven times in three times over the last seven games.
They’ve totaled 37 goals over that span. That means they’re averaging over five goals per game since a 7-1 win over Montreal on Feb. 8. Offense isn’t a problem for a red hot Devils who now boast a 20-year old superstar in Hughes. His highlight reel goal to open the scoring during last night’s 7-2 rout of the Canucks was the latest proof of what the explosive center is capable of.
Following a Vancouver turnover, Hughes exploded through the neutral zone into the Canucks end at warp speed before ripping a laser past Jaro Halak for his 16th goal. The unassisted tally was breathtaking. Here’s how it looked and sounded.
Hughes has become a breathtaking player to watch. Almost every game, he does something incredible to get fans out of their seats. No longer struggling as he did his rookie season after the Devils took him first overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, Hughes has a four-game multi-point streak. He has 10 points (3-7-10) over that stretch.
Dating back to Jan. 31, he has a seven-game point streak (5-8-13). If you go back further, Hughes has produced eight multi-point games since 12/29. That includes five three-point games. He’s registered 11 goals and 19 assists for a remarkable total of 30 points over that 19 game stretch. Prior, he only had eight points in the first 14 games.
How good is that? It shows how special Hughes is. The hype was real. It took a while. He overcame a shoulder separation that cost him over a month. With 38 points (16-22-38) in 33 games, he’s over a point-per-game on a team that isn’t there yet. The Devils remain a work in progress due to an inconsistent defense and lack of a proven number one goalie.
Without both Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier, rookie Nico Daws is splitting time with Jon Gillies. It’s the play of the 21-year old third round pick in 2020 that’s shown promise. In his second consecutive start after making 37 saves in a 6-1 win over Pittsburgh, Daws made 36 last night to win a second straight game. He is young. So, they’ll probably micromanage which games he gets. Perhaps it’s Daws who’s the future in net.
Hughes is doing this while playing with the much improved Jesper Bratt, who with a goal and assist hiked his total to a career high 50 points (19-31-50) in 48 games. The 23-year old Swede has been a steal for the Devils. Picked 162nd in the sixth round of 2016, he’s gone from an inconsistent 30-point secondary scorer to a consistent performer in his fifth year. That means he’ll get paid this summer as a restricted free agent.
Is the jump real? Playing with Hughes helps. But it should be noted that Bratt only plays on the top power play with him. He is on the second line with Nico Hischier, whose play has picked up. Bratt is a big reason for that.
When it comes to Hughes, he makes everyone better. Yegor Sharangovich has surged since being put back on the top line with Hughes. The second-year forward scored for a fourth game in a row. He also added an assist. He has a seven-game point streak (5-6-11) entering tonight’s home match at Columbus. Prior to that run, Sharangovich only had 17 points in his first 40 games. He’s a streaky player with a nose for the net. Could the 2018 fifth round pick stick? He’s certainly benefited from playing with Hughes.
With him establishing himself before he turns 21 (May 14) after the season, Hughes is the face of the franchise who gave him an eight-year extension worth an average cap hit of $8 million. That now looks like a bargain. They invested in a talented player who has the character and drive to become one of the game’s elite. You also see the disappointment when he makes a mistake. There’s an edge to the kid from Orlando with the quirky personality that’s similar to American buddy Trevor Zegras. The confidence isn’t cocky. He’s that good.
I had suggested that coach Lindy Ruff should move rookie Dawson Mercer into the top six. Originally, he was playing his natural position at center on the third line. That wasn’t helping production wise. By bumping him up to the first line where he’s shifted to the right side, Mercer has picked it up. With a power play goal and helper on Monday night, he has six points in four games. He’s up to 31 points for the season.
With Hughes everywhere, it really keeps opponents honest. Take a goal Sharangovich scored in a recent game. He stole the puck behind the Chicago net and threw a backhand on goal that turned into a rebound which Sharangovich put in. Hughes created it with his quick thinking. He’s the kind of player who can open space. Now that he’s shooting the puck and finding success, that allows him to find teammates for good looks.
Although the results aren’t consistent due to the issues they still have as a team, Hughes’ growth bodes well. With Dougie Hamilton back and getting his eighth goal yesterday, and Jack’s younger brother Luke Hughes having a great freshman year at Michigan, it won’t be long before a third Hughes joins the NHL. Jack got bragging rights over older brother Quinn last night. He’ll be footing the bill on a piece of art they want to purchase for their house.
At 19-29-5 with 43 points, the Devils have 29 games remaining on the schedule. Game 54 of 82 is at the Blue Jackets later tonight. Columbus is hanging around. Had they not blown a third period lead in a tough one-goal loss to the Pens, they’d be within eight points of the slumping Caps. Instead, they’re still 10 behind with two extra games left.
The Blue Jackets have also been scoring goals lately. So, the game could be entertaining. The Devils will go with Gillies on a back-to-back while Columbus starts J-F Berube. Figure there to be some offense. If you care about the goal total, it’s 6.5. It’s not hard to imagine the two teams going over that number.
While the Jackets are still in wild card contention, the Devils are playing the role of spoiler. They also have players who are playing for their future. That includes Damon Severson and the polarizing P.K. Subban. Andreas Johnsson too. Do any of them get moved later this month? GM Tom Fitzgerald has decisions ahead.
Devil fans don’t have to worry about Hughes. He is the franchise player who’ll only get better.
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