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The Devil is in the Details: How Jack Hughes’ Injury Impacts the Devils

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If hockey fans were asked to name a franchise player for the New Jersey Devils, they would probably think of Jack Hughes. The 22 year-old has been the face of the franchise ever since he was drafted back in 2019. In his tenure with the Devils so far, he has scored 114 goals and has two hat tricks. He was also named as one of the team’s alternate captains back in the beginning of the 2022 season; being one of the youngest alternate captains in the team’s history at the age of 21.

Last season, the Devils had an outstanding year. They had their best season in franchise history with a record of 52-22-8; 52 wins, 22 losses, and eight overtime losses. Hughes set a single season record with 99 points, including 43 goals (34 of them being even strength and 6 of them being game-winning goals), and 56 assists. Additionally, he was ranked fifth in the NHL for shots on goal with 336. The team made their way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five years. Hughes had a total of six goals and five assists in a total of 12 playoff games, one of those goals being the first time a Devils’ player has ever scored a penalty shot in the postseason.

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After that major success last season, many fans had high hopes for Hughes and the Devils going into this season. However, it seemed like all the progress the team and the superstar alternate captain had made had come to a standstill. The team went from leading the metropolitan division to being second-to-last. After a frustrating season, it was announced that Hughes would be out for the remainder of the season due to shoulder surgery. Let’s take a look at what exactly happened, and what this situation means for the Devils moving forward.

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The Devils had a solid start to this season, still being one of the top teams in the league. During the preseason, they led the Eastern Conference with 7 wins and no losses. However, towards the end of 2023, things started to spiral. In November 2023, Hughes sustained an upper body injury after crashing into the boards during the first period of a game that turned out to be a 4-1 loss for the Devils. The young center tried to return to the ice for a bit, but soon left for good. Prior to that game, Hughes led the NHL in points with 20, having scored five goals and 15 assists up to that point. Because of the injury, Hughes missed five games. Around this time the Devils began to slide, going from being one of the top teams to being fifth in the Metropolitan division. 

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Going into 2024, fans around the league were hoping that the new year would usher in a comeback for the Devils and Jack Hughes. However, on January 6th, Hughes was sidelined again for an “undisclosed” upper body injury, missing 11 games in the process. It was becoming apparent that this injury was something he was not going to recover from very quickly, especially with the demands of professional hockey. The Devils once again slipped, going from fifth in the Metropolitan division to sixth, only winning 3 games during this period of time. Frantically, the Devils rushed to get Hughes back in shape to play again. Even though the recovery process was rushed, Hughes still missed playing in the NHL All Star Game and Skills Competition, even though he was named as a team captain. After this injury, Hughes hoped he would “come out of the break here and feel good and finish off the year really strong.”

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As the season progressed the Devils continued to slide, their longest winning streak was three games. Hughes was not the only one injured, other tired players such as Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler had succumbed to injuries as well. With the team slipping further away from a playoff spot, the Devils’ general manager, Tom Fitzgerald, decided to fire head coach Lindy Ruff. It was a difficult decision, but with the team losing star players like Hughes to injuries, Fitzgerald knew that a change would be a breath of fresh air for the depleted team.

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Under the leadership of the new head coach, Travis Green, the Devils started to make a turnaround. Green recognized that Hughes’ injury was not something to be ignored, as the injury kept on getting aggravated. After it became apparent that the Devils would not be in playoff contention this year, the team announced that Hughes would be undergoing surgery. “I just think that where we’re at this time, it’s time to shut him down,” said Green last Tuesday night. “It’s not a secret that he’s been struggling a little bit. Kudos to him for continuing to play and trying to help this team get to the playoffs.” The medical staff with the Devils are optimistic that Hughes will make a full recovery and be ready to play by the time training camp rolls around at the end of the summer.

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What exactly does this mean for the Devils in the future? For starters, with Hughes and other injured players on the mend, the Devils should have a bounce-back season next year. Under the leadership of Green, it seems like the coaching staff is less focused on how many games the players can win, but rather that the players are healthy enough to play to their full potential. With the players being healthy, the Devils are definitely capable of having another record-breaking season. 

The ride is not always linear in professional sports. Though this season was definitely discouraging for Hughes and the Devils, a setback is always a setup for a comeback. It will be exciting to see what Hughes and his talented teammates can pull off when they are all healthy and ready to play again. Devils fans and fans of Jack Hughes should be on the lookout for a stellar season on the horizon.

Edited by Giana Robertaccio

Content Created by Caroline McGuinness


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