In an era of instant gratification, it must be agonizing for New Jersey Devils fans to have to wait until the third night of the 2019-20 season to finally see number one overall 2019 NHL Draft pick Jack Hughes make his debut.
That wait is almost over, as the Devils are mere hours from hosting the Winnipeg Jets in Newark on Friday night.
Consider a few things as we await the speedy center’s first NHL game:
- The Jets probably won’t be able to focus their greatest defensive attention on Hughes. Instead, the trio of Taylor Hall (top pick from 2010), Nico Hischier (first pick of 2017), and Kyle Palmieri (26th pick in 2009) will draw the greatest share of attention.
This takes a considerable chunk of pressure off of Hughes, as does the Devils debut of P.K. Subban.
Luckily, Hughes still gets some intriguing linemates. Nikita Gusev also makes his NHL debut with Hughes, and one would think that he’d complement Hughes’ skills nicely. Jesper Bratt rounds out the trio, as he should be able to hold his own.
- As you can see from those impeccably written lineup notes, Hughes’ group is listed as the “third” line.
It doesn’t seem like Travis Zajac being listed in front of Hughes is all for show, though.
Via Left Wing Lock’s listings, Zajac will be on the Devils’ top power play unit with Hall, Palmieri, Wayne Simmonds, and Subban. Hmmm.
Maybe it’s just a matter of a philosophy other NHL coaches share about building two strong options, as Hughes combines with linemates Bratt and Gusev along with Hischier and Damon Severson to form an intriguing second unit. Personally, I’d want the most talent as possible on PP1 (replacing Simmonds and Zajac) and might lean more toward Sami Vatanen on that second unit than Severson, but these things can change pretty quickly, anyway.
Still, it would be exciting to see Hall, Hughes, and Hischier on the ice whenever the Devils need a goal, so maybe John Hynes will keep that option in his back pocket.
- The stage could be set for Hughes to get some room to work with.
While this is only Winnipeg’s second game of the season, they did play on Thursday night, so they’ll be closing off a back-to-back set (feel free to throw in a “jet-lagged” pun if you’re feeling evil). It was what might have been an exhausting 6-4 loss to the Rangers, and 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko, so Winnipeg gets a look at the first two picks of the last draft on consecutive nights.
While it’s tempting to be greedy and ask for more Hughes with Hall, putting him on a lower line could really make for some chances, as the Jets defense is a mess, even when they’re fully rested (at least with Dustin Byfuglien off on a fishing boat, pondering retirement).
- Hughes’ speed should help acclimate him to the NHL game quickly, whether the points come right away or not. Back in September, Hall raved about Hughes’ speed to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, although he did provide something of a backhanded compliment about Hughes’ shooting:
He makes the game look easy. It doesn’t look like his heart rate is too high when he’s out there because he’s so calm and poised with the puck. He’s never panicking. His stride is pretty effortless. I’m really impressed with his shot. He has a better shot than I saw two years ago when I first skated with him. I honestly thought he could barely shoot the puck when he was 15 years old. That’s only going to keep getting better.
Jack’s brother Quinn Hughes was pretty impressive in his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks back in March, so maybe some sibling rivalry will spur Jack to even greater heights?
(Note: Hughes and the Devils also take on Kakko and the Rangers Thurs., Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.)
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.