We’ve already looked at two potential players the New Jersey Devils could draft with the fourth overall pick in Brandt Clarke and Simon Edvinsson. Today, we’ll dive into defenseman Luke Hughes, the younger brother of Devils center Jack Hughes. Luke finished this season with 49 points in 56 games between the U.S. National U18 Team in the USDP and the USNTDP in the USHL.
There are plenty of pros and cons with Hughes, but the pros seem to outweigh the cons. Plus, he’s one of the youngest players in this draft class, which is not an insignificant detail. Let’s look at Hughes, why he’s a fit with the Devils, and why it shouldn’t matter that he’s Jack’s brother.
Hughes a Dynamic, Offensive Defenseman
Between Edvinsson and Clarke, Hughes compares much more favorably to the latter. The first thing that stands out about Hughes is his skating. He’s a dynamic, borderline elite skater that excels rushing the puck up the ice. When he gets a full head of steam, it’s almost a guarantee he gains the offensive zone cleanly. This is something Clarke excelled with as well, except Hughes is a better skater.
Another thing that’s a strength of Hughes is his general ability in the offensive zone. He’s a good passer and has an underrated shot that has some power and accuracy. When in the offensive zone, he uses his skating to create time, space and shooting lanes. You could say this of his stickhandling as well, though he’ll occasionally get himself into trouble by trying to do too much. On the power play, his passing and shooting ability really shine, given the more open ice.
Since Hughes is an offensive-minded defenseman, he’s certainly not afraid to join the attack when the puck isn’t on his stick. If the opportunity to create an odd-man rush is there, he’s going to take it. He also makes quick decisions with the puck on his stick and manages to get rid of the puck quickly when under pressure in the defensive zone.
In the few games I’ve seen, I didn’t notice too many of the defensive concerns that come up with Hughes. Will Scouch, who manually tracks and records data of top prospects, noted that Hughes’ rush defense is the most significant issue facing him. It was sometimes non-existent, and as Scouch notes, it’s something that could separate Hughes from being a high-end offensive defenseman or a legit no. 1, top-pair blueliner.
There are also some injury concerns with Hughes. He suffered a lacerated foot tendon from a skate cut that occurred in a game early in March. He had surgery and was expected to return to the ice late last month. Time will tell if that hurts his draft stock, but it doesn’t appear it’s an injury that should affect his long-term potential.
Hughes’ Age an X-Factor
Before getting into why Hughes is a fit with the Devils, it’s important to note his age. With him having a Sept. 9, 2003 birth date, that makes him one of the youngest, if not the youngest, players in the 2021 Draft. Had he been born six days later, he would’ve been a 2022-eligible prospect.
It’s not a guarantee that selecting one of the younger prospects in a draft class means you’re getting a star. But history has shown that younger players in a draft tend to have a fair bit of success in the NHL because it allows more time for development. In Hughes’ case, he’s six to eight months younger than some of the other top prospects in the 2021 Draft. Compared to Owen Power, the projected no. 1 pick, Hughes is almost a full 10 months younger. That is not insignificant, and it’s something the Devils have to consider if he’s on the board with the fourth pick.
As for the fit with the organization, there’s obviously the appeal of having the two brothers to build the franchise around. Jack has made his feelings known about having the chance to play on the same team as Luke, so the Devils may have no choice but to make the pick if Luke is there for them at fourth overall.
But even though Jack and Luke are brothers, there’s a strong argument for the Devils selecting Luke based on talent alone. He’s the best skater of the big four defensemen expected to be top 10 picks. He has plenty of room to add to his 6-foot-2, 176-pound frame, which is especially true considering his birthdate. And while Owen Power may be the best of the top defensemen in this class, you can argue Hughes has the most upside and could be the best to come out of the 2021 Draft three to five years from now.
Hughes is a left-handed defender, which is not a need for the Devils’ pipeline. But you have to take the best player available with a top-5 pick, and it’s highly likely he’d be the best player available with the fourth selection. Ty Smith has played the right side before and can shift there down the road. A potential top pair around him and Luke could set the Devils’ defense for many years to come.
The bottom line is Hughes should be the Devils’ choice with the fourth pick because of his upside. That’s not a knock on Power, Clarke, or Edvinsson, but the fact Hughes is only six days away from being a 2022-eligible prospect should tip the scale in his favor. Sure, he may have some defensive concerns, but they’re correctable. And the fact he’s so young gives him and the Devils more runway for development to address those concerns. Combined that with his already high-end offensive abilities, and this shouldn’t be too complicated a decision.
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017