Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils
(Photo by Bobby O'Hara - JSN)

Devils Notes as Team Enters Final Week


Jack Hughes has been on a trajectory for stardom almost since the day he first laced up his skates. While his first two years as a New Jersey Devil were full of learning experiences, Jack has emerged in his first full, largely uninterrupted, season as a force in the NHL, earning Hart Trophy mentions as the year progressed. Jack currently sits at 96 points, tied for the Devils all-time single-season scoring record and just four points shy of the 100 point season he surely covets. He has not shied away from acknowledging the importance of the record,  “[T]he better I do, the better the team does, of course I want that record.”  

Scoring 40 goals this season silenced the critics who believed he was an elite skater and playmaker but not an elite scorer.  The only thing remaining to cement his ascendance into the top 10 forwards in the league is performing in the playoffs. So far this season, when the Devils have played meaningful games, Jack has shown up and impacted the scoresheet. In the March 12 contest against Carolina for possession of first place in the Metro, Jack opened the scoring and ended with a three point night in a 3-0 victory. Similarly, in the March 30 clash against the Rangers, he had the primary assist on Timo Meier’s game winning power play goal. 

Hughes has been on a roll with nine points already in April, and should he get to 13 by April 13, he will be at exactly 100 points.  To get to 100, Jack will need to net four points across two games against Buffalo at home and on the road in Washington.  On paper, the feat is certainly within reach as neither the Sabres nor the Capitals are known for staunch defending. They are 7th and 16th in the NHL in goal against respectively.  In two games against the Sabres, Hughes has four points, and in three games against Washington, Hughes has only scored in one, but he did have a hat trick.  The Devils and Hughes should also benefit from the schedule as Buffalo will be on the backend of a back-to-back after playing the Rangers. Additionally, the Capitals will be closing out their season and have a horde of injured players who are unlikely to suit up. With Hughes having more multi-point efforts (31) than games without a point (20), he is in range of getting to 100.


Since November it has been clear that Vitek Vanecek was in the driver’s seat to be the team’s starter come playoff time. Nothing has changed in that department, though Vanecek’s numbers have dwindled in comparison to his early season ascendance. He has rallied to provide excellent goaltending in big games down the stretch. Other than the disastrous game in Winnipeg where the majority of goals against were due to systemic failure, Vanecek has allowed more than one goal just one time and has come up big in games against the Rangers and Hurricanes, allowing just one goal on 58 shots over the course of the two games with the biggest stakes of the season.  

The lone remaining question for Vanecek to answer is whether he can hold up in the grind of the playoffs.  He has already logged 500 more minutes and played in nine more games than any previous regular season and he still has the playoffs. Good news for Devils fans is that even with the increased workload, “The Vitek” has set career highs in wins (32), save percentage (.910), and goals against average (2.46).

Mackenzie Blackwood continues to demonstrate why he should be given the backup role in the postseason. Blackwood appears to have knocked off the rust after rehabbing a groin injury and has played very well in stretches for the Devils. Injuries and the stellar play of Vanecek and rookie revelation Akira Schmid have limited Blackwood to just 19 starts this season. His most recent game against Boston was Blackwood’s career in a microcosm. He gave up two quick, early goals but then shut out the Bruins over the final 50 minutes, stopping all 31 shots from that point forward. While a very small sample size, since April 1, Blackwood has a better save percentage and high danger save percentage than Vanecek (per Natural Stat Trick).


It is difficult to recall a time this season when the Devils were at full strength. Only five players have played in all 80 games so far (Hamilton, Bratt, Mercer, Tatar, and McLeod). The Devils' depth has allowed them to navigate significant absences from key players including Blackwood, Nate Bastian, Miles Wood, Ondrej Palat, and John Marino. Both in-season acquisitions (Timo Meier and Curtis Lazar) missed time with nagging injuries that persisted. Now as the playoffs are starting, the Devils are as healthy as they have been all year with the return of Lazar.  The two question marks are Erik Haula who has missed several practices and a recent game for “maintenance” and Michael McLeod who is in concussion protocol after a borderline hit from the notorious Brad Marchand. 

General Manager Tom Fitzgerald indicated that he would like to call up some of his AHL players to give them a chance to play before the season ends. This would serve to both reward the players who have succeeded in Utica and also allow some of the NHL players some extra time to rest.  The Devils had hoped to have clinched home ice advantage in the first round by now and still may before they take the ice Tuesday. Doing so would alleviate the need to play anyone who is fatigued or has a nagging injury. Fortunately, the schedule makers have been kind to the Devils as after they finish the regular season Thursday in Washington they will have at least three days off before starting the playoffs.  


The Devils Power Play is starting to come together. Heading into the game against Boston they had scored on four of their previous ten opportunities. They were unable to capitalize against Boston’s top-ranked penalty kill which has not allowed a goal in its last 35 chances while shorthanded. Improving the power play will go a long way to determining how deep the Devils can go in the playoffs. With a first unit of Hughes, Meier, Bratt, Hischier, and Hamilton, who have combined for nearly 50 power play goals, the talent is there to make an impact. New Jersey has currently risen to 13th in the NHL in power play percentage. 

The Devils penalty kill has been one of the standout units in the league from the start of the season onward. Their ability to win crucial faceoffs with three players (McLeod, Hischier and Haula) over 53% from the dot and to attack while down a man has been crucial. Five different Devils have scored shorthanded goals, led by Hischier with three. The Devils currently sit in seventh place in PK percentage, less than half a percent out of fifth place.  Maintaining their strong play throughout the playoffs will be essential to defeating the Rangers in a long series should they be matched up.  The Rangers possess a variety of weapons tailor made for the power play and more than a fifth of their goals this year have come from the man-advantage. By comparison, only 17% of the Devils scoring has come from power play goals. 


The fourth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft is set to make his NHL debut this week following the Michigan Wolverines being eliminated in the Frozen Four by eventual champions Quinnipiac. Hughes notched 48 points (10g 38a) in 39 collegiate games this season for Michigan.

On Monday, Luke participated in his first full practice with the team and seemed to acclimate himself well.  Ruff indicated after practice that “Hughes will play (this week)”  Ruff said he was impressed with how well Hughes handled the speed of the pro game. He also discussed a drill during practice where Hughes was asked to hit an open net from the other end of the ice. For each miss, the rest of the team was forced to do wind sprints. Observers say that Hughes made 3 of 5.  Lindy joked with the media that Luke felt the team needed to be in better condition so he missed on purpose. 

Depending on the results of the Rangers and Hurricanes games on Monday night, it is possible that Hughes could be in the lineup wearing 43 on the back of a Jersey Jersey as soon as Tuesday against the Sabres. 


The Devils still have much to play for both individually and as a team in the last week of the season. The team is seeking it’s 51st win which would tie a franchise record (2008-09) and a sweep of the week would set a new record. A win on Thursday in Washington would also tie a team record for most road victories in a season at 28 (1998-99).

In the standings the Devils are still in contention to finish anywhere from first to third in the Metropolitan Division, with the most likely outcome having them finish second to Carolina setting up a first round matchup against the Rangers with home ice advantage. 

Jack Hughes enters the week needing one point to take over the Devils' record for most points in a season (96 - tied with Patrik Elias) and four to reach 100. 

Should the Devils play both Curtis Lazar and Luke Hughes in the line up together, Lazar will become the first player to play NHL games on the same team as all three of the Hughes brothers. 

Dawson Mercer is three goals shy of his first 30 goal season. Tomas Tatar is two goals shy of a 20 goal season, which would be the sixth of his career. If he were to end up at 19, that would be the eighth time he has reached that mark.

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