Jack Hughes’ Performance With Devils Rookies Should Help Persuade Taylor Hall To Stay

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits

Center Jack Hughes could team up with Taylor Hall to make New Jersey strong for years to come if the wing signs a contract extension. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils saw what the future could hold over the weekend in Buffalo.

Among the more than 20 prospects on their rookie team roster for games against the Sabres, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins was 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Hughes.

The 18-year-old had a mixed debut Friday, scoring his first goal but hardly being able to help his Devils from going down 6-0 to Buffalo before their rally came up short in a 6-4 defeat. The goal, though, was beautifully scored after Hughes took some punishment in front of the Sabres net.

Hughes was rested for  New Jersey’s second game Saturday, but returned to the lineup on Monday for the Devils’ 3-2 win against Boston. He may not have made noise on the score sheet, but he left an impression on New Jersey’s brass.

“Obviously, Jack, he’s a magician with the puck,” Devils executive vice-president and assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said.

When questioned about Hughes’ turnovers, especially on Monday, Fitzgerald had a simple explanation:

“I’ve been very lucky to be around high, high-end franchise players like Sidney [Crosby] and Evgeni Malkin [in Pittsburgh], and they turn the puck over too because they have the puck all the time. And Jack showed signs of brilliance here at times, and yeah, times of when to move it, when not to, when to hold on to it. That’s a whole learning curve for players like that, especially an 18-year-old.

“I just think you allow the player to be who they are, and that’s who he is. He’s going to produce a lot because of the amount of time he touches the puck, his motor runs all game. I don’t know how, he doesn’t get tired. Start of the shift to end of the shift, to me his speed was the same.”

Hughes is coming into an unusual situation, where he’s the second No. 1 pick made by the Devils in three years (Nico Hischier when to New Jersey at the top of the 2017 NHL Draft), but he’s not entering a rebuilding situation. The Devils, after their acquisition of defenseman P.K. Subban from Nashville are in a mode where they intend to win soon if not right away. That means Hughes must meet expectations early, other prospects like Jesper Boqvist, who had an outstanding rookie tournament, have to develop along with Hughes, and the Devils have to keep their core together.

That’s where Taylor Hall’s situation looms large. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner played just 33 games because of injury last season, and he’s coming up on his contract season. The 27-year-old wit a average annual value charge against the Devils’ salary cap of $6 million will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer unless he signs an extension. Gauging his value based on his high level of production when healthy, but factoring in his tendency to get injured over his nine-season career will be difficult; not to mention he has to be committed to staying with New Jersey, an issue that hasn’t arisen yet.

The Devils should be envisioning Hall and Hughes as the pillars of their team heading into the next decade, and all the excitement around the Devils could be deflated should they not get Hall’s name on a new contract.

General manager Ray Shero didn’t sound too worried.

"There are different stages of negotiation and at some point, [Hall's] going to play for us and then we'll sort it out," Shero said. "Whether he's signed, we'll see. I look forward to sitting down with him and seeing him back on the ice with us, which will be great. I know he's looking forward to that, too. Ideally, we wanted to give him space this summer anyway, training wise. We've made some additions to try and improve our hockey team and hopefully Taylor will be a big part of this in the future."

A team that has made the Stanley Cup playoffs just one of the past seven seasons should feel a little more urgency than Shero’s expressing, but you have to figure underneath it all he’s eager to have the story turn to a turnaround on the ice after getting the business with Hall done away from the rink.

Hughes could be the league’s next top-five superstar, could be Crosby to Hall’s Malkin to refer back to Fitzgerald’s Penguins comparison. This only works out, though, if Shero gets Hall to stay.

If Hall saw any of Hughes’ performances at the Prospects Challenge, it should be a little easier to get the veteran signed up.

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The New Jersey Devils saw what the future could hold over the weekend in Buffalo.

Among the more than 20 prospects on their rookie team roster for games against the Sabres, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins was 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Hughes.

The 18-year-old had a mixed debut Friday, scoring his first goal but hardly being able to help his Devils from going down 6-0 to Buffalo before their rally came up short in a 6-4 defeat. The goal, though, was beautifully scored after Hughes took some punishment in front of the Sabres net.

Hughes was rested for  New Jersey’s second game Saturday, but returned to the lineup on Monday for the Devils’ 3-2 win against Boston. He may not have made noise on the score sheet, but he left an impression on New Jersey’s brass.

“Obviously, Jack, he’s a magician with the puck,” Devils executive vice-president and assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said.

When questioned about Hughes’ turnovers, especially on Monday, Fitzgerald had a simple explanation:

“I’ve been very lucky to be around high, high-end franchise players like Sidney [Crosby] and Evgeni Malkin [in Pittsburgh], and they turn the puck over too because they have the puck all the time. And Jack showed signs of brilliance here at times, and yeah, times of when to move it, when not to, when to hold on to it. That’s a whole learning curve for players like that, especially an 18-year-old.

“I just think you allow the player to be who they are, and that’s who he is. He’s going to produce a lot because of the amount of time he touches the puck, his motor runs all game. I don’t know how, he doesn’t get tired. Start of the shift to end of the shift, to me his speed was the same.”

Hughes is coming into an unusual situation, where he’s the second No. 1 pick made by the Devils in three years (Nico Hischier when to New Jersey at the top of the 2017 NHL Draft), but he’s not entering a rebuilding situation. The Devils, after their acquisition of defenseman P.K. Subban from Nashville are in a mode where they intend to win soon if not right away. That means Hughes must meet expectations early, other prospects like Jesper Boqvist, who had an outstanding rookie tournament, have to develop along with Hughes, and the Devils have to keep their core together.

That’s where Taylor Hall’s situation looms large. The 2018 Hart Trophy winner played just 33 games because of injury last season, and he’s coming up on his contract season. The 27-year-old wit a average annual value charge against the Devils’ salary cap of $6 million will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer unless he signs an extension. Gauging his value based on his high level of production when healthy, but factoring in his tendency to get injured over his nine-season career will be difficult; not to mention he has to be committed to staying with New Jersey, an issue that hasn’t arisen yet.

The Devils should be envisioning Hall and Hughes as the pillars of their team heading into the next decade, and all the excitement around the Devils could be deflated should they not get Hall’s name on a new contract.

General manager Ray Shero didn’t sound too worried.

"There are different stages of negotiation and at some point, [Hall's] going to play for us and then we'll sort it out," Shero said. "Whether he's signed, we'll see. I look forward to sitting down with him and seeing him back on the ice with us, which will be great. I know he's looking forward to that, too. Ideally, we wanted to give him space this summer anyway, training wise. We've made some additions to try and improve our hockey team and hopefully Taylor will be a big part of this in the future."

A team that has made the Stanley Cup playoffs just one of the past seven seasons should feel a little more urgency than Shero’s expressing, but you have to figure underneath it all he’s eager to have the story turn to a turnaround on the ice after getting the business with Hall done away from the rink.

Hughes could be the league’s next top-five superstar, could be Crosby to Hall’s Malkin to refer back to Fitzgerald’s Penguins comparison. This only works out, though, if Shero gets Hall to stay.

If Hall saw any of Hughes’ performances at the Prospects Challenge, it should be a little easier to get the veteran signed up.

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I write about the Bruins and the NHL, and the Red Sox and MLB. I have covered the Bruins and tne NHL since 2005 for a number of entities, most recently for WEEI.com and

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