What to expect from Luke Hughes in 2023-24
The New Jersey Devils' top prospect figures to claim a top-4 spot out of camp. But what kind of production will we see? JP Gambatese takes a closer look.
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By JP Gambatese (@JP_Gambatese)
After spending the last two seasons in the NCAA with the University of Michigan, before rounding out last year with the NHL squad, Luke Hughes is primed to slot right into the New Jersey Devils’ top-4.
Many defensemen drafted in the first round over the past decade have found significant success after spending exactly two years in the NCAA.
Cale Makar, Zach Werenski, Charlie McAvoy, and Quinn Hughes played two years with their respective colleges before becoming elite defensemen; and that’s only a few of the many names who have found success taking this route.
Considering the level of prospect Luke Hughes has developed into, these names are likely to be pretty accurate comparisons relative to the other, lesser players who developed through college hockey.
As such, let’s take a look into what Luke Hughes might look like next season:
After each of their successful college careers, the names listed above went on to slot right into their respective teams’ top two pairings, with the only one not garnishing first pairing TOI being Zach Werenski, who played behind Seth Jones and David Savard.
In their inaugural seasons, all four of those players started the majority of their shifts drawing from the offensive zone, with the lowest-frequency offensive-zone-start player being Zach Werenski at 52%.
For the most part, because each of their offensive prowesses, these players have spent their entire careers with the majority of their starts in the o-zone. The lone exception being Charlie McAvoy in 2019-20, who started in the offensive zone only 44% of the time.
Most people – myself included – expect Luke to slot in with John Marino on the second pairing, likely with somewhat sheltered minutes.
Taking a look at the extremely brief stint with the main squad last season, Luke started in the offensive zone during his two regular season games exactly 50% of the time, but only 31.25% in his three playoff games.
Over the course of a full season, I definitely anticipate the deployment to not only level out, but favor offensive-zone draws. Yes, Luke is a solid enough defender in his own zone to warrant defensive zone deployment with a defensive juggernaut like John Marino, but his high-end offensive talent should be enough of a reason for Ruff to use him in the offensive zone the majority of the time.
While the deployment stats and projection all refer to 5-on-5, each player also spent their first full year on the first power play unit, with the exception of Charlie McAvoy, who was playing behind Torey Krug in that role.
I expect Hughes to be in a similar spot as McAvoy here, so long as Hamilton stays healthy. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Hughes forces his way onto the first unit, but the chances of that happening are slim.
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