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Tuesday night the New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery and, thus, the right to choose 1st overall for the second time in three years.
There is at least *some* debate which player the Devils should use that pick on. Jack Hughes is the consensus No. 1, though, so I'm going to start my writeups with him.
What the eye test says
• The first thing that stands out when watching Hughes is his speed and pace of play. Everything he does is fast. He accelerates quickly, his top speed is high, and he is very quick to read and react.
• Hughes is a zone-entry machine. His speed forces defenders to respect him and back off. When they do try and step up, he has the skill level, hands, and elusiveness to slip by.
• Further to that point, he is very difficult to contain. Even when multiple players close on him, he has the ability to make plays in small spaces while under pressure.
• Hughes' vision is high, high-end. He sees the tightest of windows when he has the puck on his stick and has the playmaking ability to move the puck through them.
• What allows Hughes to get the most out of his skills and vision is patience with the puck. If there is no easy outlet available to him, he will regroup and change angles, or speeds, as opposed to forcing something or giving the puck away. He is all about keeping possession, which is perfect for the modern game.
• Many players are not nearly as effective – or effective at all – on their backhand. Hughes is not one of them. I've seen him make plenty of skill plays and create chances using his backhand, be it extending while trying to fight off a defender or making a pass from left-to-right on the rush.
• Hughes does compete on defense. He's not large in stature, obviously, but he will not shy away from board battles. He also has a quick stick and is effective at pickpocketing opposing players on the backcheck.
• Hughes has the puck a lot and he's not big. This does result in him taking some uncomfortable hits once in a while (kind of like Nico). He's a gamer, though, and routinely gets up and right back in the play without hesitating.
• His creativity, and confidence, leads to the occasional ugly turnover, however, he has the ability to make a lot of plays most players wouldn't even consider attempting. I'm glad he doesn't shy away from them because the pay-offs can be big.
What the (micro) stats say
I've tracked six games for Hughes this season (that's all I've had access to). Admittedly, the sample size isn't as large as I'd like but I think there's still enough there to back up some observations I've made.
Note: all data at 5v5.
• When watching Hughes, you can tell he's really dynamic through the neutral zone. That becomes even more apparent when tracking him. He averages more than seven successful carry-ins per game, and ~eight 1/3 controlled entries including pass-ins to teammates.
• Hughes flat-out doesn't dump the puck in. It's essentially controlled entry or bust for him. As mentioned previously, if nothing is available he'll circle back and attempt another entry rather than throwing the puck away.
• Hughes doesn't just do the heavy lifting up ice. He facilitates a lot of the team's offense, picking up a primary shot contribution on more than 53% of the on-ice shot attempts. For perspective, in the Devils games I tracked this season Taylor Hall was involved in 51% of the attempts, and Johnny Gaudreau was in on ~48% of the attempts for the Flames. This isn't a player comparison, but rather perspective of how much Hughes does for his team.
• Hughes took ~28% of the attempts he was on the ice for and picked up a primary assist on ~24% of the attempts. His tendencies – at least in the games I tracked – are pretty balanced. In other words, teams have to respect him both as a passer and shooter.
• He doesn't take penalties (four PIMs in 24 USHL games this season), and he's good at drawing them. He drew three minors at 5v5 in the games I tracked without taking one. Hughes, like Hischier, strikes me as someone who will provide a lot of extra value in the way of a positive penalty differential. That's a very underrated skill.
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Western Conference playoff picks
Predicting 1st round upsets
Devils 2018-19 season awards
Setting the table for the Devils' 2019 off-season
Zacha's recent output appears to be smoke and mirros
Devils hire Tyler Dellow as VP of Analytics
Talking draft v. 1: WHL forwards