All Jacked Up
For those of you wondering this is a reference on Jack Hughes and his hot start to the first of an 82 game season. New Jersey Devils fans and media certainly have high expectations of him hitting the 60 point threshold. Having written a recent article before the season start for the opening night he is on pace to meet or even exceed 16 goals, and 73 points at the current pace.
Hughes gave the Devils the edge over the Chicago Blackhawks in the second period before the team got outsmarted a few times in the third period. Going into overtime the 20-year-old got the breakout pass from Ryan Graves that resulted in an NHL EA Sports type dangle of a game-winning goal. Hughes had so much energy going into this game that he didn’t want to let the fans at The Rock down.
What to look for in the next game is Hughes being able to keep getting those consistent reads and outsmarting his opponents. The center is on a mission to do a lot of wonderful things and he’s not the only one possessed to do so.
Hamilton On Lafayette Street
It did not take Dougie Hamilton long at all with scoring his first New Jersey Devils goal 17 seconds into the game. His physical presence and his ability to help clear the puck out more efficiently where the Devils lacked success a season ago.
There’s a lot to like about Hamilton’s game not only being played at home games on Lafayette Street, however, his leadership skills are key. Hamilton is already off to a great start not only statistically from my predictions article I did with Luke Garrison for a collaborative piece that included our outcomes for Hamilton’s 2021-22 campaign.
Do not be surprised to see Hamilton being put up for a Norris Trophy, and an Olympic roster spot for Hockey Canada. His calm-spoken character shouldn’t fool anyone. Do expect him to be a leader by example on the ice under the culture General Manager Tom Fitzgerald has pieced together over the past few seasons. The 28-year-old is the kind of guy that could easily be up for an MVP-type award if he continues to help the Sasquatch Squad not only on defense, also leading by example on offense.
Youth In The Pipeline
After Alexander Holtz was cut and sent to Utica to play for Coach Kevin Dineen. Holtz had himself a breakout game after last season where he got his feet wet after leaving Djurgardens in the SHL. Holtz was a man possessed on a breakout play and ripped one in on his backhand against The Rochester Americans. The Utica Comets would go on a four-on-three power play on a one-two-one formation attack. Holtz brought the heavy slapper from the point rifling the puck in for a highlight slap shot of a goal.
Other players that Tom Fitzgerald will need to keep his eyes on are defensemen like Michael Vukojevic, Kevin Bahl, and Nikita Okhotyuk who are more physically defensive-minded defenders. There’s no need to rush those guys yet. They’ll get their defensive reps in.
The Graves Situation
After the trade this past summer when Tom Fitzgerald packaged Mikhail Maltsev with middle-six forward potential that displays a big frame. Maltsev and the Devils’ second-round pick was sent to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan Graves a more defensive-minded defenseman.
Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton both paired together complimented their styles of two-way hockey, and defense-first hockey mindsets. In 31 shifts Graves played 24:55 minutes with a plus four rating while Hamilton had a plus three. Hamilton had 33 shifts and 25:54 minutes played so both players were looking out for each other.
Graves helped add that grit and sandpaper that helped goalie Jonathan Bernier eventually get the win in overtime with Jack Hughes winning it. With Graves leading the charge part of the Devils Sasquatch Squad on defense there is a lot of leadership, skill, and maturity with a lot of upside.
Leadership and Maturation
The New Jersey Devils were unable to close out the third period in regulation but they were able to settle down and kept focused. The maturity level going into overtime with Jack Hughes going into his third season he has been growing to be more focused as a leader than most people give him credit.
Although Hughes is a young leader he’s already learning from guys like Andreas Johnsson, Nico Hischier, Miles Wood, Tomáš Tatar in the forward group core that can help him even out the responsibilities at the forward end.
On the defensive side with Damon Severson out on the opener having Graves, Hamilton, and P.K. Subban around getting guys like Jonas Siegenthaler, Colton White, and Christian Jaroš were able to step in.
There is a lot of depth, skill, and the defense is maturing into their Sasquatch mentality. Lindy Ruff has a lot of tools in his toolbox and he’s looking to build a team that is set up for success this season, and many seasons to come.
The Devils can certainly be a team that takes a lot of points away from in-conference opponents and makes teams think more than twice about who teams start in their net. Opponents shouldn’t be taking the Devils very lightly because there’s a blend of rookies, young veterans, and seasoned veterans that can do a lot of damage.
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