With the American Thanksgiving holiday approaching, the 2018-19 NHL season is nearly at the quarter pole. Traditionally, this is when most experts say we have a good idea of what a team is for that season. Once again, this seems pretty accurate, with a few exceptions of course.
Your division leaders entering play Saturday are Toronto, Columbus, Nashville and San Jose. These are four good teams so that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The Leafs are in first place in the NHL.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) November 17, 2018
Tampa Bay, Washington, Boston and Winnipeg were pegged as contenders by many to start the season and each hold a playoff spot. Again not much of a surprise.
But then things start to get really interesting. There are some teams holding on to a playoff spot that many didn’t expect to see this late into the season. Hello New York Islanders. Hello Buffalo. Hello Montreal. Hello Vancouver. Can these teams keep their hot starts going and translate it into a postseason appearance?
Then there are some teams who are vastly underperforming. Hello Pittsburgh. Who saw the Penguins last in the East on Saturday morning? On the flip side, they sit just four points out of third in the Metro. It’s not doom and gloom but it is still noteworthy at the quarter pole.
So now, here’s the question we must ask ourselves looking ahead. There’s a stud currently playing out his draft year who is expected to go number one at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. If this prospect joins your team, your fortunes dramatically change. He’s not to the level of Connor McDavid, but he isn’t that far off.
Which teams need Jack Hughes the most?
Everyone has room for Hughes. But five teams (and a couple honorable mentions) stand out as having the biggest need for this game changer.
When considering a list of this kind, I took into effect the current state of this season and tried projecting what rosters will look like 3-5 years down the road and ranked their situations. Obviously a lot can change between now and Vancouver. But oh my, there are some pretty bleak situations at the moment.
Let’s start with a couple of honorable mentions. If we are truly looking at things five years from now, you have to put the Pittsburgh Penguins in this conversation. I know, I know. You are getting angry reading that last sentence whether you’re a Penguins fan or not.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, contrary to popular belief by some, aren’t going to play forever. Near-term they still can win a Cup. But imagine them once they’re gone. While their prospect pool is OK, it’s not earth-shattering. Remember what happened the last time the Penguins lost superstars? Yeah they were brutal until the new wave came on board.
While the Penguins didn’t make the top five, they definitely qualify as an honorable mention.
The New Jersey Devils
While they didn’t make the top five, they get an honorable mention because of the 2015 NHL Draft. That Connor McDavid draft was loaded. Jack Eichel was there. Mitch Marner was there. Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski were there. Mikko Rantanen and Timo Meier were there. So were Jake DeBrusk, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot and Brock Boeser. The Devils had a shot at everyone after Marner on this list.
With the sixth pick, they took center Pavel Zacha. Ouch.
Zacha this season has bounced back and forth between New Jersey and Binghamton. He just hasn’t been able to get solid footing in his NHL career to date while these others are off to great starts.
The Devils do have Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier so it’s definitely not all bad. However the 2015 draft is a wasted opportunity. With the Devils looking up in the Metro and Zacha not living up to expectations as of now, they have a clear need for a player of Hughes’ caliber.
The Vancouver Canucks (Please Hockey Gods)
With Elias Pettersson in the fold, the Canucks don’t make the top-five but certainly do get an honorable mention. While making the playoffs this season is a tall ask, they have a unique opportunity to truly do something special in June.
The Canucks host the draft at Rogers Arena. They have Jack’s brother Quinn as a prospect. All we need is a Vancouver lottery win for one of the more surreal draft stories for a franchise in a long time. Considering the recent suffering this franchise has endured, they deserve a chance at this. Please hockey gods, make this happen!!
The Top-5 Teams
5. The Carolina Hurricanes
Now to the list. The defense is good. The rest is well, let’s just say improvements can be made. Jordan Staal is in his 30’s. Victor Rask and perhaps Teuvo Teravainen are your next best center options at the moment with Martin Necas in Charlotte.
Here is a franchise that needs a true, dominate number one center. Could you imagine Hughes and Andrei Svechnikov terrorizing opponents for the next decade? The Raleigh and Carolina market has started climbing upwards but they need the jolt of a game changer. The Hurricanes make the list at number five.
4. The Chicago Blackhawks
I see you throwing things at me from your computer screen. How can a team with three Cups need Jack Hughes? You have seen them recently, right? Somehow, Joel Quenneville is not coaching them. Insane.
Anyways, their prospect pool is not good. The $10.5 million twins are starting the back-nine of their careers with Jonathan Toews age 30 and Patrick Kane at 29 soon to follow. Unless there is a sudden infusion of talent, this Blackhawks team is in trouble for more than just this season.
3. The Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Getzlaf is under contract until age 36. Ryan Kesler has three years left AFTER this one and will be age 37. The Ducks do have Adam Henrique and Rickard Rakell locked up.
This is not the greatest of situations to be in. The Ducks need a youth movement especially with their core players aging. John Gibson has stood on his head all season to keep the Ducks afloat but that can’t continue over the long haul if they want to be successful. They need a game changer to lead them into the next decade.
2. The Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings enjoyed their Dallas draft experience landing both Filip Zadina and Joseph Veleno. Yet they still need a game changing center to join Dylan Larkin.
Many expected this to be a painful year in Detroit and thus far, it’s been that despite some better play from them of late. Over the long haul though, they should safely land in the bottom-three and hold one of the better chance at landing Hughes. The Wings need a lot of things, so Hughes would be a tremendous start.
1. The Los Angeles Kings
The Kings win this discussion and it’s not close. They’re dead last in the league by four points with an aging roster in desperate need of turnover. Anze Kopitar is entering the back nine and their best center prospect Rasmus Kupari is just 18.
At this point, the Kings need all the help they can get. Even if they land Hughes, they’d still have the longest way to go. They are hands down the team most desperate for Jack Hughes given their current and immediate future situation.
You only make this list if you have a way of drafting Hughes. That means owning a first-round pick. Sorry Sens fans. Support groups will be available if Colorado manages to win the lottery with your pick.
So how bad does your team need Hughes? No matter what happens, someone is going to inherit a game-changing talent who will help that franchise for a decade. If your team is in the basement, may the odds ever be in your favor.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.