NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The Devils introduced No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes to New Jersey on Tuesday – even though he is already sharing the spotlight.
The Devils have given notice they might be re-emerging as a contender with an encouraging draft and the stunning acquisition of six-time All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban. It has all gone a long way in turning pessimism into optimism for a team that finished with the league’s third-worst record and out of the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.
”Adding a talent like Jack Hughes on Friday night and Saturday, P.K. Subban, obviously I think the Devils are back in business,” general manager Ray Shero said.
It started with winning the draft lottery in early April to the selection of Hughes, a center, with the top pick Friday to the trade for Subban, who immediately steps into the role as New Jersey’s top defenseman.
With 2017-18 MVP Taylor Hall expected to return to form after an injury-marred campaign, 2017 No. 1 pick Nico Hischier continuing his development and leading scorer Kyle Palmieri playing his best hockey, the Devils have a shot to do something in a league where the St. Louis Blues come out of nowhere to win the Stanley Cup.
Devils majority owner Josh Harris can’t wait to the season to start, adding Devils’ fans are used to winning Stanley Cups – the last was in 2003 – and now is the time to start doing it again.
”Jack joining the franchise represents another turn in our goal to be elite,” Harris said at a news conference for Hughes at the Prudential Center. ”We said that we’re here not to do anything other than consistently compete and ultimately win the Stanley Cup.”
With parents Jim and Ellen sitting in the front row, the 18-year-old Hughes was soft spoken, confident and composed speaking on a stage that included Harris and Shero.
The Florida-born Hughes said he had no doubt he would be playing next season in the NHL for the Devils and he hopes to play a creative game.
It is just what the talent-starved Devils need. The past week was a major step in Shero’s rebuilding plan over the past four years. It started soon after he was hired with the trades for Hall and Palmieri, the draft of Hischier, another center, and now the selection of Hughes and the trade with Nashville for Subban and his $9 million cap hit for each of the next three seasons.
Hughes hasn’t stopped going since the draft. He returned to New Jersey with Shero, Harris and his parents on a private jet and spent the next few days making media appearances. He attended the New York Yankees game against Toronto on Monday night, sitting for 30 minutes with Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and actor Adam Sandler.
He is eager now to return to suburban Toronto, where he grew up, and begin preparations for an 82-game season against men, and being a part of a team.
”I want to be Jack Hughes, not Patrick Kane or Matt Barzal,” Hughes said. ”I want to have my own flavor, my own excitement to my game.”
The 170-pound playmaking center mixed poise, drive, and sheer skating ability to score 74 goals and 154 assists in 110 games with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.
It will be interesting to see what he does with the Devils. Hischier had 20 goals and 32 assists as a rookie.
Hughes doesn’t see himself as competing with Hischier for the job as the top-line center.
”I think to win you have to have 1A and 1B,” said Hughes, who will wear No. 86 with the Devils. ”No team wins with just one really good center. Travis Zajac has been a really good center for a long time and I think the Devils are in a really good spot. In the NHL, I feel whoever I play with will be a really good player.”
Coach John Hynes is looking forward to using all his new talent.
”It’s exciting,” Hynes said. ”It’s what you want. You want guys to come in and give you a chance to win and coach some excellent players.”
And who is to say the Devils are done? They still have $25 million available in cap space.
”I feel with the pieces we have at this moment, we are a much better team than we were on Thursday,” goaltender Cory Schneider said. ”That’s encouraging.”
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