Devils News & Rumors: Hughes, Third Jerseys & More

In this edition of New Jersey Devils news and rumors, we’ll go over Jack Hughes returning to practice in a limited capacity. A look at the Devils releasing their first alternate uniform in franchise history. Plus, Shakir Mukhamadullin possibly extending his contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL. Finally, line combinations from yesterday’s practice before the Devils take on the Minnesota Wild tomorrow at the Prudential Center. Let’s get into the latest news. 

Hughes Appears at Practice

After dislocating his shoulder against the Seattle Kraken in the Devils’ second game of the season, Hughes joined the team for practice yesterday morning. He was in a non-contact jersey and participated with the team for about 15 minutes. Still, it’s a positive sign as he works his way back towards playing in games. 

“Everybody was glad to see him back out there,” head coach Lindy Ruff said to Devils team reporter Catherine Bogart. “He was only staying out there for 10-15 minutes of shooting, a little bit of skating and off he went. But it’s the next step towards getting back and playing.”

Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils are 8-5-3 and are finding ways to win without Hughes. However, it’s clear they’ve missed him, especially at five-on-five. The Devils are a middle-of-the-pack team at that game state — their Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 50.4 percent ranks 17th, while their expected goals percentage (xG%) of 49.48 percent ranks 18th. Hughes is their top possession player and play-driver, so I’d expect those numbers to start trending upwards once he returns. 

Defenseman Ty Smith will also benefit from having Hughes back in the lineup. He’s struggled mightily to start this season and has a goals above replacement of -4.3, the worst GAR among all defensemen in the league. He has his own struggles to sort out, but being on the ice with Hughes would certainly help get him going in the right direction. 

Devils Unveil Third Jersey

To much fanfare, for better and worse, the Devils unveiled their first third jersey in franchise history. Here’s a glimpse of what they look like with Hughes wearing one. 

The jerseys are inspired by the Newark Bulldogs, a hockey team that played in Newark, New Jersey, in 1928-29. Per Greg Wyshynski of ESPN, the third jerseys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. There’s a minimum three-year commitment for the Devils to wear the jersey in 12-15 games per season (From ‘How Martin Brodeur helped create the New Jersey Devils’ new third jersey’, ESPN+, 11/23/2021). 

A photo of the Devils’ alternate uniforms leaked late last week to some very harsh criticism on social media from fans around the league. Based on the reaction this morning, fans seem to be warming up to them after seeing some of the players wearing them through the official release and on Twitter. There hasn’t been an official announcement of when they’ll first wear them in a game, but I imagine that’ll be coming soon enough. That should give fans a better opinion of the new look one way or another.  

Mukhamadullin Potentially Extending KHL Contract

Before the 2021-22 season began, word had leaked out that the Devils planned to sign Mukhamadullin to his entry-level contract in the summer of 2022. Now, that may not be the case, as Corey Masisak of The Athletic reports that Mukhamadullin may want or need another year playing for Ufa in the KHL.

Related: Bobby Orr’s Flying Goal

By all accounts, Mukhamadullin is making progress this season as a 19-year-old defenseman. With that said, an extra year in the KHL can’t hurt him. It’s the second-best hockey league in the world. And if his plan is to jump straight into the NHL after leaving the KHL, then the extra year in Russia makes sense. The Devils don’t need to rush him into the NHL either. Their blue line is in good shape with Ryan Graves, Dougie Hamilton and Damon Severson all signed for the foreseeable future. Plus, Jonas Siegenthaler will be a restricted free agent in 2023, so there’s plenty of time for Mukhamadullin to sort his game out in Russia. 

Line Combos Heading Into a New Week of Games

After a thrilling comeback win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday evening, I thought Ruff would run back the same lines he used in the third period to spark the comeback. At least for now, he appears to be sticking with the top-six units he’s used to begin the last few games. 

That top-six has seen quite a bit of time for the Devils recently, especially the unit of Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Andreas Johnsson. But to end the Lightning game, Ruff moved Yegor Sharangovich up with Bratt and Mercer, while Johnsson played alongside Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha with Tomáš Tatar rotating in. 

These are obviously the smallest of sample sizes, but the unit of Bratt, Mercer and Sharangovich had the better of play in the third period against the Lightning — the Devils had a CF% of 66.67 percent and xG% of 63.34 percent with them on the ice. Before moving up to a line with Bratt and Mercer, Sharangovich was looking pretty good centering Janne Kuokkanen and Alex Holtz. 

One option to consider would be taking Zacha off the first line and replacing him with Sharangovich. That may seem a bit controversial since Zacha has 11 points in 16 games, but he only has two goals and four points at five-on-five and is averaging 1.11 points per 60 minutes at that game state. The reason he has 11 points is that he has two goals with the extra attacker and four points on the power play. 

Yegor Sharangovich New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils forward Yegor Sharangovich (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Sharangovich scored his first two goals of the season against the Lightning and still has a better five-on-five scoring rate than Zacha (1.51 points/60). It’s clear he benefited from playing with some top-six talent against the Lightning, so not giving him that chance again is a bit of a head-scratcher. 

Related: Devils’ Early Season Player Power Rankings

On the flip side, the Devils need Sharangovich at center with Jesper Boqvist injured. We’ve seen enough from Zacha to know he’s a better player at left wing than at center, which is where he’d have to play if Sharangovich moves to left wing on the first line. Plus, the line of Zacha, Hischier and Tatar has put up some gaudy five-on-five numbers. Tatar has four points in his last six games, so it appears he’s beginning to find his footing with the team after signing as a free agent this summer. That could help Zacha find more scoring at five-on-five. 

But either way, Ruff has options. If things aren’t going well and the team needs goals, he can shorten his bench again and move Sharangovich to wing with Bratt and Mercer. Ruff hasn’t always had that flexibility with Hughes injured this season, so finding some new combos that work will help the team continue to get by while they wait for Hughes to return to games. 

That wraps up this edition of Devils news and rumors. The team has three games in five nights, starting tomorrow night against the Wild. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest Devils coverage through the holiday week in the United States. 

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