NHL.com examines how center Jack Hughes can make an immediate impact for the New Jersey Devils and projects his fantasy hockey value for 2019-20. For more fantasy coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy.
Center Jack Hughes, selected by the New Jersey Devils with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday, significantly boosts their center depth for next season. Hughes is a dynamic playmaker that should make an impact for the Devils and fantasy owners next season and beyond on a separate line from center Nico Hischier (No. 1 pick in 2017 NHL Draft).
The 5-foot-10, 171-pound center scored 190 points (60 goals, 130 assists) in two seasons with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, surpassing Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller, who had 189 points (71 goals, 118 assists) from 2014-16, for the most in program history. Hughes also had the most points at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship (32 in 14 games in 2018, 2019 tournaments), breaking a record previously held by Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (31 points in 14 games for Russia in 2002, 2003).
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Hughes should average at least 16 minutes per game with the Devils, likely gaining exposure to elite left wing Taylor Hall and/or right wing Kyle Palmieri at even-strength and/or the top power play. The Devils power play ranked 21st in the NHL last season (17.7 percent), respectable considering Hall, who had 37 power-play points in 2017-18, missed 49 games with a knee injury. With the addition of Hughes, defenseman P.K. Subban (acquired from Nashville Predators on Saturday) and a healthy Hall, the Devils could finish among the 10 best in power-play percentage, like they did in 2017-18 (21.4; T-9th).
It's worth noting the Devils could keep center Nico Hischier on the top line with Hall and Palmieiri, potentially bumping Hughes down to the second line with wings Jesper Bratt, Blake Coleman and/or Joey Anderson. In that scenario, Hughes would still be fantasy-relevant but have a lower ceiling than if he plays with Hall and Palmieri. Regardless, Hughes should benefit from skating on a power-play unit, which could be quaterbacked by Subban, an injury bounce-back candidate after scoring 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 63 games last season and three points (one goal, two assists) in six Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Predators.
Here are recent examples of centers that have been drafted No. 1 with statistics from their rookie seasons:
Nico Hischier, NJD (2017-18): 82gm, 20G, 32A, 52P, 6 PPP, 180 SOG, 16:19
Auston Matthews, TOR (2016-17): 82gm, 40G, 29A, 69P, 21 PPP, 279 SOG, 17:38
Connor McDavid, EDM (2015-16): 45gm, 16G, 32A, 48P, 14 PPP, 105 SOG, 18:53
Nathan MacKinnon, COL (2013-14): 82gm, 24G, 39A, 63P, 17 PPP, 241 SOG, 17:21
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, EDM (2011-12): 62gm, 18G, 34A, 52P, 23 PPP, 134 SOG, 17:36
While linemates could play a large factor in Hughes' success this season, he'll likely skate in a top-six role in his first season, similar to the rookie centers above, including a role on the top power play. Not known for being a pure goal-scorer, Hughes is unlikely to match Matthews' rookie goal total but could have more assists with exposure to Hall and Palmieri.
The Devils may also benefit from additional free agent signings and/or trades this offseason and could receive an overall boost if either goalie Cory Schneider or Mackenzie Blackwood has a standout season. Blackwood went 10-10-0 with a .918 save percentage and two shutouts in 23 games and will carry over his rookie eligibility into next season. Schneider went 6-13-4 with a .903 SV% in 26 games but improved after returning from injury, going 6-8-3 with a .921 SV% and one shutout in his final 17 games.
Hall faces injury concern and contract uncertainty (potential 2020 unrestricted free agent), but the Devils could be a sneaky fantasy team if either goalie finds consistency. Even with center being the deepest fantasy position, Hughes is worth drafting slightly ahead of Hischier based on potential lineup placement and overall upside after record-breaking performances for the NTDP and United States.
Projection: 79 games, 22 goals, 39 assists, 61 points, 18 PPP*
Draft range in 12-team fantasy league: Rounds 8 or 9 (picks 85-108)
*This projection will be updated with any additional trades or signings the Devils make this offseason.
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