The New Jersey Devils have found themselves in a rebuild over the past three seasons, finishing near the bottom of the division over the past three years after making the playoffs in 2017-18. With faces like Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes heading an emerging forward core, the Devils find themselves looking for a face for their defense for years to come.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Luckily for them, a perfect fit is available for them at the fourth-overall pick in THW’s second annual NHL Mock Draft. In 38 games for the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP), this player had six goals and 34 points, adding 15 points in 18 games for the USNTDP Juniors of the United States Hockey League (USHL).
With the fourth-overall pick of the 2021 THW NHL Mock Draft, the New Jersey Devils, and my colleague Alex Chauvancy, who served as their general manager, selected Luke Hughes of the USNTDP and brother of Jack Hughes.
What Hughes Brings to the Devils
Hughes gives the Devils a swift, dynamic presence from the back end that the team hasn’t seen in a long time. He is one of the best skaters in this draft, using his agility to easily get past defenders and make plays. With his 6-foot-2, 176-pound frame, Luke has something his other brother, Quinn, who is currently one of the best defensemen in the league, doesn’t have: size. With his mobility at that size, Luke has the potential to become one of the best defensemen from this year’s draft class.
The biggest downside with Hughes is that his defensive abilities aren’t exactly polished yet, but it has shown progress during his draft year. He has grown to become more aware on the defensive end and use his agility to his advantage on the defensive end just as he does on the offensive end. With Hughes headed to the University of Michigan next season, he has even more time to refine his game before suiting up for the Devils.
His ability to move laterally at a swift speed is what gives Hughes his biggest upside, and coupled with his fantastic hockey IQ, he becomes a great fit in New Jersey. If he continues to develop on the defensive end, he can become an anchor for the team, quarterbacking their power play and being a backstop on the penalty kill.
If he reaches his full potential, Luke could be everything the Devils thought they were getting when they acquired P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators: a solid offensive defenseman who can contribute defensively and be the face of their defensive core.
A Family History of Hockey
Hughes’ hockey IQ doesn’t just come from nowhere, he’s been raised by a storied hockey family. Both of his parents, Jim Hughes and Ellen-Weinberg Hughes, played collegiate hockey. Ellen wound up winning a silver medal with Team USA in the 1992 World Championship as well, earning Women’s World Championship All-Star Team honors in the process.
Jim’s hockey career goes even deeper, as he moved on to a coaching role following the end of his playing career in 1991, serving as an assistant coach for 16 years across several different North American teams before serving as head coach of the KHL’s Dynamo Minsk in 2008. After being replaced in September of that year, he spent the rest of his coaching career with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, most recently serving as the Director of Player Development from 2009-2015.
With all of this hockey knowledge in the family, it’s no wonder why Luke Hughes, and his brothers Quinn and Jack, have all developed to become top prospects during their junior careers, and eventually became NHL talent.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a football contributor, social media contributor and photographer for FAU Owls Nest.
Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press. You can find him on Twitter at @ColbyDGuy.