At 11:23 A.M. the New Jersey Devils published a tweet that would cause celebration to break out among their fans. Former first-overall pick Jack Hughes will make his return, and play tonight against the San Jose Sharks. The 20-year-old forward was injured during the Devils’ second game of the season against the Seattle Kraken, and has been sidelined since.
There has been speculation that Hughes would be returning to the ice sooner rather than later. After Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, I passed Hughes and Ty Smith in the tunnel, and Hughes had a huge smile on his face suggesting an imminent return. He has participated in a handful of practices, and this morning was back on the power play along with Dougie Hamilton, Pavel Zacha, Nico Hischier and Jimmy Vesey.
The Announcement Devils Fans Have Been Waiting For
The Devils played 17 games without the Florida-born center. Before his injury he had three points (two goals, one assist) in two games. After today’s morning skate, head coach Lindy Ruff took to the podium and said the four words fans have been itching to hear — “Jack’s ready to go.” The young player is returning from a dislocated left shoulder.
“He will play tonight,” said Ruff this morning to media. “He’s a very important piece on our team. His puck possession, his play-making ability and the speed he adds to the team. We have missed that part, and it is great to get him back.”
Hughes has the ability to change the game on many levels. His quickness allows him to get into the offensive zone and get out of tight areas effectively. The team has been able to remain competitive during his absence and their record is 9-6-4. Coach Ruff explained that they wanted him to have a certain amount of practices in prior to coming back.
“I knew when Jack, probably a week ago, was bugging me to play that we were getting pretty close,” said Ruff. “We looked at the schedule and wanted to get ‘x’ amount of practices in with him. We were able to do that and figured that the date was going to be the date. It wasn’t etched in stone, but if things progressed, and he got those practices in today was going to be the day.”
Hughes Excited to Get Going
It was a different experience for Hughes to see his teammates prepare for a game while he sat and watched. The team is obviously happy to have him back and hope he gives them an extra boost. The 5-foot-11 forward is excited to get back on the ice, and the fact that it is front of home fans makes his return that much sweeter.
“Starting at home and playing in front of our fans, it’ll be a lot of fun,” Hughes said after the morning skate. “I had this date circled. I probably got in sooner than most thought… I don’t know if the fans are expecting something outrageous tonight, but I’m going to play smart and find my find my way back into the game, just take it easy and play my game. I’m excited and I’ll take it one period at a time.”
Hughes understands it may take some time to get back to peak performance. With his return, the future looks bright down the center as the team also has Hischier, Dawson Mercer and Michael McLeod. Coach Ruff does not seem to be in a rush to put Hughes at center and stated there is a possibility that he begins on the wing, and Hughes doesn’t seem to mind.
“I think it will be good to play with Nico [Hischier],” said Hughes. “Hopefully we can get something going and get hot. For me it’s the simple things. You don’t know what can happen on the faceoff, I can get hit the wrong way… At the end of the day my role doesn’t change. They want me to produce and make plays, whether it is up the middle or on the wing, it does not matter.”
Every team goes through injuries throughout the season, and it is up to the players left on the ice to keep things moving in the right direction. P.K Subban has explained the team does not want Hughes to come back and feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, and they were successful in doing so. New Jersey currently sits sixth in the Metropolitan Division with 22 points, two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Devils will face the Sharks tonight at Prudential Center, and fans will be able to watch the game on ESPN+.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and covers both the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly Youtube show produced by THW. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.