One fired coach to go with a dismissed general manager and a teammate, just over a season removed from winning a Hart Trophy, sent away in a trade inspired by the team’s dismal start to the season–and while you’re at it, throw in a global pandemic to pause the season indefinitely and for the Devils, pause play for a undetermined length.
That’s just how it went for Jack Hughes, the highly-touted first overall selection in last year’s entry draft. Though the 19-year-old will join a stellar lineup of top picks that did not reach the postseason in their first pro season–Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, Stamkos, Tavares, Hall, McDavid–his first season has the added frustration of an uncertain timetable amidst a moment in human history with little clear on any front. But his welcome to the NHL season was filled with some of darker realities.
“I know it’s a very unusual year in terms of a lot of guys being moved,” Hughes said via conference call. “The GM and coach being fired–it’s an unusual year. I think you understand that it’s a business very fast. Hopefully I never go through something like that again.”
Hughes played in 61 of New Jersey’s 69 games before the pause. It wasn’t as if he looked out of place on most nights, but his seven-goal, 21-point campaign (11th among NHL rookies) was admittedly underwhelming one year removed from torching the US Development Program like never seen before.
“It was obviously a frustrating season for myself,” he said. “If you asked me to do it all over again, I would have gone through the same things 100 times again.
“Playing in the NHL as an 18-year-old is very special and in 10 years from now I’ll look back and recognize how important this year has been for me.”
The downs of the season was far from just individual. It was the Devils, who won the lottery for the third time in two years, that decided to try and move forward. They added a former Norris Trophy winner to strengthen the blueline; traded for one of the best KHL scorers looking to play in North America and added an ex-Flyer with bruising tendencies, a scoring touch and a renowned pedigree for bringing character into the locker room.
The New Jersey Buyers, as they hoped they could be by late February, entering the season with some cap space, ended up with a yard sale in the aftermath of the dismissal of John Hynes from behind the bench, Ray Shero as general manager and Taylor Hall, shipped to Arizona just two months into the season.
“I think I learned a lot this year and I’ll take that going into next year.”
Next year is of course a little murky. Hughes remains at his family’s home in Michigan, just outside of Plymouth. He, his brother Quinn, whose 53-points in Vancouver this season leads all rookies in scoring and other brother, Luke (2021 draft eligible) are skating together. Though he says he’ll report to New Jersey if he is asked, he has no imminent plans at his time and will continue to skate in nearby facilities. Quinn will eventually make his way out of Michigan as the Canucks will play Minnesota in the league’s qualifying round. Though New Jersey is out of the 24-team return-to-play playoffs, several players have began skating and utilizing team facilities in Newark.