NHL Talk: Devils’ Hughes & Mercer, Wild’s Rossi & Kaprizov

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In this edition of NHL Talk, New Jersey Devils forwards Jack Hughes and Dawson Mercer are flourishing talents, and the Minnesota Wild get a look at a seemingly bright future with forwards Marco Rossi and Kirill Kaprizov.

Devils’ Hughes Improving in Third Season, Rookie Mercer Finding Success

Despite being sidelined for 17 games with a dislocated shoulder earlier this season, Hughes is making major strides in his young NHL career. In just his third season in the league, he has 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 21 games, already matching his points total from his rookie season in 40 fewer games and only 10 points shy of his points total last season, with 35 games in hand.

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

“I think the biggest thing with Jack Hughes was actually just him putting on muscle because he’s 5-foot-11 and he’s listed at 175 pounds,” says THW’s Kristy Flannery. “And I think his first two seasons, what you really saw was he was getting worked off the puck very easily. He was getting knocked down very easily, and he really wasn’t able to win those one-on-one battles along the boards.”

Drafted first overall by the Devils at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the 20-year-old continues to show improvement season-to-season. As he continues to flourish into a star player, expect Hughes to help lead a bright future for New Jersey.

“It was just a matter of, you’re going from a kid into a man, for lack of better words, and you’re seeing that with him,” says Flannery.

But, Hughes is not the only young player on the Devils finding success this year. Among them, rookie forward Mercer has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 38 games and is tied with Dougie Hamilton for fifth-most points among New Jersey skaters. He also has the third-most shots on goal (71) among his teammates, only behind Jesper Bratt (team leader in points and goals) and Pavel Zacha.

Dawson Mercer New Jersey Devils
Dawson Mercer, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“I remember sitting in training camp with one of the scouts for the Devils and we were talking about Dawson Mercer, and I said ‘he’s going to make the team, there’s no doubt in my mind,'” says Flannery. “And what’s really fascinating about him is there’s so many good rookies this season, but he’s not necessarily a player that you build a franchise around.”

Mercer, also a 20-year-old, was drafted 18th overall by the Devils at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He is proving himself worthy of his first-round selection in his first season in the NHL.

“When you watch Dawson Mercer play, you see that he does all the little things right,” says Flannery. “He’s not flashy. He’s not going to be in the headlines his entire career, but he’s a solid player, and he’s very responsible offensively and defensively. Extremely important.”

The rookie is expected to be another key part of the Devils’ long-term future. He will likely be in New Jersey for many seasons to come.

“[Mercer is] a lot of fun to watch and to hear talk,” says Flannery. “He speaks so well for someone so young. He really is like the total package.”

Wild’s Rossi Plays First Two NHL Games, Kaprizov Having a Stellar Season

After a scary bout with COVID-19 and myocarditis last year, Wild rookie forward Rossi played his first two NHL games, against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 6 (3-2 win) and Washington Capitals (3-2 shootout win) on Jan. 8. Drafted ninth overall by the Wild at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, his debut was highly anticipated and an amazing sight to see after a long recovery road.

Marco Rossi Minnesota Wild
Marco Rossi, Minnesota Wild (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“His comeback from his bout with COVID-19 and having a heart condition is absolutely amazing, and that he was able to join the Wild this year at all when that was pretty doubtful was incredible,” says THW’s Mariah Stark. “As far as his play, I was really impressed with his speed and ability to move the puck. He fit in really well with [Kevin] Fiala and [Matt] Boldy, who also made his debut.”

Although Rossi went pointless in each of his first two games, there are some positive takeaways from his first set of NHL matches. The 20-year-old recorded 16:19 minutes of time-on-ice with two shots against the Bruins and 14:15 minutes of time-on-ice with three shots against the Capitals. He was promptly returned to the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League (AHL) after the pair of games.

“His shots on net, he really moved the puck a lot, and I’m just a little disappointed [the Wild] sent him down as soon as they did,” says Stark. “I understand, [the Wild] had a few players come back, but I think if he had been given a game or two more, he might have been able to have success like Boldy did.”

Although Rossi is back in the AHL for now, it likely won’t be long before he returns to Minnesota to play a key role in the team’s future.

“I think the Wild has a really good future with [Rossi],” says Stark.

Rossi will someday be joining part of a dangerous Wild forward group, led by Kaprizov, who leads Minnesota with 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in 34 games. The 24-year-old is in his second NHL season and signed a five-year, $9 million average annual value (AAV) contract with the Wild on Sep. 21, 2021.

Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“I love watching him play,” says Stark, “He is amazing. I think what makes him so unique, he has the speed and the ability to move the puck, and he realizes that and he knows how other teams are going to react. A lot of times, there’s at least two players on him, and he knows that it’s opening up space for his teammates. So, he always is looking for, you know, Zuccarello or Hartman to pass to. And usually it ends a success for him.”

Related: NHL Talk: Blackhawks’ Jones & Maple Leafs’ Bunting

Drafted 134th overall (fifth round) by the Wild at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Kaprizov was a major draft steal, and Minnesota is only just beginning to see the benefits of selecting him. He is only seven points shy of his points total last season (his rookie year), with 21 games in hand.

“What amazes me is his ability to see the ice,” says Stark. “He just knows where everyone is, where to move, what to do… He’s just really impressive to watch.”

Thank you for reading this edition of NHL Talk, and make sure to listen to THW Podcast every weekday (Monday to Friday) to hear everything your favourite hockey writers have to say about the hottest topics around the league.

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