The Devils have been facing their own struggles for the past month, and responsibility for said struggles can be spread across multiple areas of the list. One area they certainly can’t spread out to, though, is the immediate vicinity of Jack Hughes, who has been on quite the bum while much of the rest of the team is unequal at best. The OT’s thrilling victory this weekend over the Rangers was as cathartic as it was important in the standings after a very difficult month of Devils hockey, and as always, Jack Hughes was the engine, the fuel, and, at times, pretty much all of it. The damned car leads the demons to victory. Hughes featured in all three regulation goals in a pivotal victory in the January game with major playoff implications at Newark.
With the Devils partially getting things right again over the past five games with a 3-1-1 record, no one can claim more responsibility for stopping that slide than Hughes, who has ten points across five games. Those 10 points, eight of them goals, correspond to his contribution of a full 50% of all Devils goals over the past five games. He has three multi-goal games in that span of five, he has 19 goals in his last 20 games, and the last time he had fewer than four shots on goal was ten games ago. He has 59 (!!) shots on target in his last nine matches (over 6.5 per game). While two other players have been doing some good things for the Devils lately (most notably Nico Hischier, who has seven straight points by himself), Hughes is currently driving the bus in a way that only Taylor Hall has touched in recent Devils history.
It’s really hard to come up with enough superlatives for the way Hughes plays in this latest stretch. Despite many guys having a tough December and staying calm in the new year, Hughes has been on fire for over a month now. And not only is it on the scoresheet where Hughes dominates, the Devils outpace teams in a 5v5 when Hughes is on the ice, with 62.5% expected goals and 67% actual goals. Hughes dominates offense and sacrifices nothing on defense in doing so. He frequently hides opponents’ chances with brilliant defensive stick work and also punishes goalkeepers with a shot that seems to be getting more deadly by the week. It’s the complete package now. You don’t just have to take my word for it either, as most sites in the gamer ratings space are in pretty strong agreement at this point:
You can also just watch it because its impact is very hard to miss at this point. Hughes is one of those places where eye testing and stats meet in unison with the message, “Yeah, this guy rocks.” Hughes is only 21 years old and seems like a bona fide star when he’s on the ice for the Devils now.
There’s been a lot of debate in the fanbase lately about who should line up next to Hughes on the ice, but it almost doesn’t seem to matter. Eric Haula has been lined up alongside Hughes for much of the season, ostensibly to have important tackles and act as a defensively responsible opposing teammate for young Jack, results are very impressive in this formation, but Hughes also hasn’t had much of an issue away from Haula, sharing xG and actual goal Just the shadow behind where the two of them are together. It looked like you could throw anyone next to Hughes at this point and get results. Hughes is getting closer Threshold Dunk / Flipit Everyone next to him will look good, and Hughes crushes opponents on the scoreboard no matter who is skating next to him now.
Hughes is putting on a nightly show for Devils fans right now and it was great to watch him transform into the destruction machine he was. Even with a bottom six mostly absent for an entire month, Hughes continued to produce at an astonishing pace. Teams can’t stop him at the moment, and thanks to his and Hesher’s two-hit, the team have managed to steady themselves and pull back from the slide they’ve been in for much of December, even with the goal still deep. Pretty much a dormant. If that’s what Jack Hughes was up to at the age of 21, that eight-year deal he signed last year will look like one hell of a robbery for a long time to come.