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Hughes scores in first prospect game for Devils

No. 1 pick gets power-play goal in loss to Sabres

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Jack Hughes, the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, scored in his first game for the New Jersey Devils at the Prospects Challenge at Harborcenter on Friday.

In a 6-4 loss to Buffalo Sabres prospects, the 18-year-old center provided a glimpse of his promising future in his first competitive game since representing the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in May.

"It was nice to get on the board, but I had at least five or six other chances and should have had at least one or two more," Hughes said. "I felt OK with my game. It was the first game of the season, so it's just a building block. It was more just kind of getting my feet wet again, getting back into game mode.

"They were the better team, by far. We kind of got lucky we put four up on the board and only gave up six."

Hughes was knocked down before getting up and scoring an unassisted power-play goal off a snap shot from the slot 16:17 into the second period to make it 6-1. He shook off a shoulder check from Bobby MacIntyre 4:35 into the first, deftly side-stepped a potential big hit by Rasmus Asplund at 5:01, and consistently exhibited quick stick skills in the circles to generate offense.

Video: HIGHLIGHT | Jack Hughes Goal

"He's an incredibly talented player, and what I was impressed with most was when down 6-3 and on the power play, he asked me a question that tells me not only is he locked in, but that he's a student of the game," said Mark Dennehy, coach of the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton. "As skilled as he is, he's a competitor too, and that's probably why he is the player he is."

Hughes played center on the top line between Jesper Boqvist (No. 36 pick of 2017 NHL Draft) and Nathan Bastian (No. 41 pick of 2016 NHL Draft). Boqvist scored an even-strength goal 5:09 into the third period.

"I thought our line started to feel more comfortable in the second half of the game," Boqvist said. "Hughes was vocal too. In the locker room, he was telling us to move the puck, move the feet, and don't get stuck in the corners, stuff like that."

Hughes is expected to play one of the Devils' two remaining games at the four-day tournament. The Sabres host the round-robin event, which includes prospects from the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Chris Taylor, coach of the Sabres' AHL affiliate in Rochester, challenged his forwards by playing them against the Hughes line.

"I wanted to see different lines against him because you want to see if they can handle it," Taylor said. "I even changed up one line to put Dylan Cozens (No. 7 pick of the 2019 draft) out there to make sure that he's taking face-offs against him for that competition. I thought every line handled him pretty good. He's obviously a really good player, and I thought our defense did a great job with him too."

The brother of Vancouver Canucks rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes, Jack Hughes (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) is trying to become the first player to start his season in the NHL after being drafted from the United States National Team Development Program.

"Whenever he has the puck, he has his head up, and because of that, it's hard to hit him," Dennehy said. "He's intelligent and sees the next play, but he's also gritty and not afraid to go to the tough areas.

"Look, he's not happy with the result, but I think he showed everybody, especially the Devils fans, that he's got a bright future."

Photos courtesy: Bill Wippert/Buffalo Sabres; Video courtesy: New Jersey Devils

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