“Jack’s going to play tonight.”
It was the five words everyone wanted head coach Lindy Ruff to say ahead of the New Jersey Devils’ Feb. 18 contest versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jack Hughes made his triumphant return to the lineup after missing the team’s previous four games with an upper-body injury.
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The injury occurred when the Devils hosted the Vancouver Canucks at Prudential Center on Feb. 6. Two days later, he left practice early and Ruff announced he was dealing with an injury. It was not until Feb. 9 that the organization officially announced he was listed as week-to-week, but Ruff confidently said it would be on the shorter end of that timeframe. It only took nine days for Hughes to return to the ice.
What Hughes Means to His Teammates
Second-year forward Dawson Mercer summed it up best when asked about Hughes after the team’s practice on Feb. 17.
“He’s a big loss for us, having him back is something we are happy for.”
The Devils mostly survived the storm without their star forward earning a record of 2-1-1 with Hughes out of the lineup. It may not have been pretty, but the team got it done securing regulation wins over the Seattle Kraken and Columbus Blue Jackets. Forwards Tomas Tatar, Erik Haula, and Yegor Sharangovich all stepped up in the Orlando native’s absence to help the team improve to a 3-1-1 record in February.
“He’s a big, big, big part of our offense, so it’s an obvious answer: definitely everybody is happy if he would be back,” Nico Hischier said of Hughes’ return. “He’ll help us out a lot.”
Turns out Hischier was right.
Hughes’ Return to the Lineup By the Numbers
There is always an adjustment when a player returns to the lineup, and fans saw that on Saturday evening when Hughes took the ice for his first few shifts. It did not take too long for the youngster to find his stride, and by the game’s end, he collected one primary assist on Jesper Bratt’s 22nd goal of the season and a secondary assist on Dougie Hamilton’s eighth power-play goal.
|17:30||Hughes’ time on ice. Haula, Hischier, and Mercer were the only forwards to see more ice time than the 21-year-old.|
|2:27||The amount of time Hughes’ played on the man advantage. He earned his 21st power-play point of the season with his assist on Hamilton’s goal.|
|33%||Hughes took nine faceoffs versus the Penguins. He won three for a faceoff win percentage of 33.|
|10||The former first-overall pick extended his point streak to 10 games dating back to Jan. 13 versus the Anaheim Ducks. He has collected 20 points (nine goals and 11 assists) in that span.|
|3||The 21-year-old had a team-leading three giveaways. According to Statmuse, Hughes leads all Devils skaters with 53 giveaways this season.|
“It was nice to be back after only (missing) four (games). It could have been longer,” Hughes said. “I felt fine. A little tired out there. It was not my best, but you miss a week or two and with [the] All-Star Break too that was one game in two-three weeks. That’s a good start and a really big win for our team.”
Making an Impact
It has been years since the Devils had a player as dynamic as Hughes on their roster. He has collected 69 points in 51 games, which ranks him ninth-best in the league. His two assists in Pittsburgh earned him his 24th multi-point effort of the 2022-23 campaign, which is the most among all Devils skaters.
If Hischier is the heart and soul of the team, Hughes is the heartbeat. He has 12 more goals than the next-best player on the team and a 15-point lead over Bratt who is the second-highest point earner on the team. Whether it is his shot, playmaking, or the ability to seamlessly skate into the offensive zone, he automatically makes his team better when he is on the ice.
Hughes and the Devils will look to keep things rolling as they conclude their back-to-back on Feb. 19 when they host the Winnipeg Jets at Prudential Center.