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Hughes has ups, downs in NHL debut with Devils

No. 1 pick in 2019 Draft creates scoring chances, gets benched during shootout loss to Jets

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Jack Hughes' initiation into the NHL regular season featured more ups, downs and educational moments than the New Jersey Devils rookie center wanted.

Hughes, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, finished his debut with no points, one shot, a minus-1 rating, three giveaways, a benching and a handful of almosts, including a few in overtime, in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Prudential Center on Friday. The Devils blew a 4-0 lead.

"I think it was nice to just play my first game more mentally just to kind of be at peace with it and say, 'I'm here and now I can buckle in and start playing,'" said Hughes, who played 15:12.

Hughes received the loudest ovation during the introductions. He was near apologetic after the game.

"The fans have been awesome with me," Hughes said. "So hopefully I can start producing some points and give them something to cheer about."

It seems that's more of a question of when than if, because though there is obvious room for growth in the 18-year-old, there is obvious star power in him too.

Hughes twice set up defenseman Will Butcher for scoring chances in the final minute of overtime. He also had a chance on a 2-on-1 early in overtime, but his shot went wide. He would have had a clear breakaway if overtime were five seconds longer.

Hughes had a chance to give the Devils a 2-1 lead in the shootout, but Jets goalie Laurent Brossoit made a relatively easy save with his left pad.

In regulation, Hughes was nearly sprung for a breakaway on his first shift, and he tried to slide and dangle into the slot on his second but was taken out of a scoring chance. He set up scoring chances on the power play too.

"I thought there were some things in Jack's game that he did well," Devils coach John Hynes said. "He had the opportunity, could have scored a couple goals. I think there are other components to a game as we've talked about through preseason that he's got to learn and grow and work with."

Had Hughes scored, maybe the other components Hynes was referencing wouldn't have mattered as much. But Hughes didn't score, and on top of that he mishandled the puck, leading to an extended shift in the defensive zone. That resulted in Jets defenseman Neal Pionk's tying goal with 7:25 remaining in the third period.

Hughes had the puck on his stick, but instead of turning and playing it toward the wall, he skated into the slot, and the Devils lost possession.

Pionk scored 35 seconds later. Hughes didn't play again until overtime.

"He's a young, developing player in the National Hockey League," Hynes said. "When you have a talented guy who competes the way he competes, you're going to have some good things but there are other components to his game that need to improve."

Hynes said the decision to sit Hughes for the final 7:25 of the third was matchup-based with the Jets cutting down to three lines for the final five-plus minutes.

"Obviously, the third wasn't my best," Hughes said. "But luckily we have the opportunity to play [Saturday] too, so we'll go right after it again."

The Devils play at the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, MSG+, NHL.TV), when Hughes should be a little more settled.

"He's the prototypical player for today's game, so I think he's going to have a lot of success," New Jersey defenseman P.K. Subban said. "He's got his whole career to worry about being perfect. He doesn't have to be perfect in his first game. When you make mistakes, just keep moving forward."

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