Newark, NJ – A historic season for the New Jersey Devils will be capped off tonight at the NHL Awards. All of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Lindy Ruff are nominated for individual hardware as a result.
Looking back to September before training camp even began, the expectation was that New Jersey would take a step forward, but instead, they leaped. All of Hughes, Hischier, and Ruff played major roles in the Devils’ success in 2022-23. The night before the NHL awards, the trio recognized each other and their incredible accomplishments this season.
The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
Nominated alongside Hughes is Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.
Of any of the Devils’ nominees, if anyone is going to bring home hardware, this one seems most likely. Hughes had an incredible season. Averaging just under 20 minutes per night in 2022-23, Hughes scored 43 goals and 99 points. Hughes’ fellow nominees are hovering right around the same average time-on-ice. Yet, Hughes has the edge in production as Point tallied 95 points and Kopitar had fewer at 74. What makes Hughes’ year that much more impressive is he only took six penalty minutes this season. It’s not as little as Kopitar’s four PIMs, but it’s an edge on Point’s seven.
Hughes was the most utilized forward all season as the Devils’ leader in time on ice. The Devils captain certainly knows this won’t be the last time Hughes attends an NHL Awards ceremony.
“Jack had an unbelievable year,” Hischier said. “I’m sure that’s not the last time he’ll be here and there will be other awards he’ll be nominated for as well. He’s just getting better and better. Great year for him, I’m really happy for him. He’s here with me now and we can enjoy this together. Hopefully, there’s more to come. I’m happy to be his teammate and see him progressing in the right direction. It’s fun to watch him play hockey.”
Ruff adds: “It just tells you the type of game he plays. The type of respect he’s gained. He’s a very disciplined player. There are a lot of good things about his game. He’s a real good person and I think he’s getting recognized for it.”
Despite solidifying himself as one of the best players in the NHL, Hughes isn’t taking anything for granted. He recognizes how hard it is to succeed in the NHL which makes him hungrier to have more success next season.
“It’s so tough,” Hughes explained. “There are so many good players, so many guys have great years every year. It’s tough to do. Of course, you’re motivated and hungry that you want to come to these events for other awards as well, but it shows how good of a place the league is in and how many good players there are right now.”
“Anytime you’re up for an award, whatever it is, it’s pretty special. Obviously, there are two other pretty good guys who are well deserving too, of course. If I did win, it’d be a huge honor, really special.”
As the Devils’ leader on and off the ice, it was quite a sight to see the development of the 24-year-old Swiss captain. Hischier’s upward trajectory began as soon as last season. That development has given him recognition as one of the NHL’s better two-way forwards.
When his skates hit the ice, Hischier can only be described as a dog on a bone. He forechecks so well, pressuring his opponents to turn pucks over, usually with success. With the puck in his possession, his strength allows him to protect the biscuit while skating the puck in transition. The development of his game outside of the offensive zone allowed him to score more than he ever has this season.
Hischier notched his first 30-goal season in 2022-23, ending the year with 31 goals and 80 points. The Frank J. Selke doesn’t account for offense as it’s awarded to the best defensive forward, but Hischier believes the addition of his offense put him on the map to be nominated.
“It could definitely be that it puts a little bit more attention on a player,” Hischier explained.” For me, always since day one, I always try to work as hard as I can on both sides of the ice. This year, it really worked out well for me. I’m glad people recognized it.”
Hischier had no idea he could be one of the youngest ever to claim the Selke. He’s more of a “we” than a “me” type of player. Hischier focuses on team success rather than his own individual success. He accurately believes the better he plays, the better the Devils play as a result. Standing among the NHL’s best on Sunday, Hischier recognized the honor it is to be in attendance, reflecting on who he models his game after and how he always wanted to be a strong defensive forward.
“It’s always been the kind of player I wanted to be,” Hischier explained. “I really enjoyed watching Pavel Datsyuk. Obviously, he’s won it before. You see (Patrice) Bergeron, seeing my name next to his, being nominated, it wasn’t really something I was thinking about growing up. It’s definitely a cool feeling to be here. Defense was always a big part of my game and I definitely take pride in it.”
The Devils’ head coach had only remarkable things to say about his captain. In fact, Ruff coached a former Selke winner in Michael Peca who Ruff believes Hischier draws a lot of similarities.
“Michael was a real good player for me. A really good captain. If you look at Michael’s game and Nico’s game, it’s very similar. Two guys that are very good at face-offs, killing penalties, and both power play guys. A lot of similarities from every aspect of their games.”
Hischier stated it won’t be the last time you see Hughes at the NHL awards, but it’s likely not the last time you see Hischier, either. Bergeron is on the back end of his career and might even retire. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Hischier nominated for the Selke moving forward year after year.
“We’re all really proud of Nico for what he’s accomplished and the fact that he’s getting the recognition now,” Hughes said. “He’s here and he’s a really deserving winner. We’re all pulling for him. He had a great year and I think he’s in a really good spot. It’s kind of like giving him his flowers a bit. Everyone in New Jersey knows how special and important he is to us and now the league is starting to notice it too.”
Alongside Hischier and Bergeron, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner is also a nominee for the Frank J. Selke Award.
It feels like Jim Montgomery is a lock for the Jack Adams Award. The 2022-23 Boston Bruins might have been the best regular season team in NHL history. Dave Hackstol took some incredible strides with the Seattle Kraken, too.
However, Ruff led the 2022-23 Devils to be the best regular-season team in New Jersey’s franchise history. Due to Ruff’s leadership, the Devils’ plus-47 point differential from last season to this season ties the 2017-18 Avalanche and the 2007-08 Penguins for the largest single-season turnaround in NHL history.
All three head coaches are worthy nominees. However, if you ask Ruff about his nomination, he’ll tell you it was a group effort.
“I think first it just tells you the job the coaching staff did,” Ruff explained. “It’s not a one-man job. All those guys around me did a heck of a job to get us where we were at. Right underneath that is a group of players that had a heck of a year for us.”
Ruff’s contract expires on July 1st, however, general manager Tom Fitzgerald already confirmed he will return as the Devils’ head coach next season and likely beyond. We’re waiting to hear about the details of his contract. Fitzgerald recognized that Ruff’s ability to resonate with such a young team is part of what led to their success this season and is the right man for the job moving forward. The Devils’ captain recognizes it as well.
“I always said Lindy has always been really fair to us,” Hischier said. “He’s been coaching and teaching us some good things. I mean he has so much experience and we’re a young group of guys. We took a big step this year and we want to continue going in the right direction and take another step next year. I think he’s done a really good job with being able to make us take that step.”
Ruff is certainly deserving of the nomination as a Jack Adams finalist. Despite the Bruins and Montgomery’s incredible season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Ruff ends up bringing home the hardware.
Part of what made Ruff so successful in 2022-23 was his associate coach, Andrew Brunette. The former Jack Adams finalist landed the head coaching gig in Nashville as a hot commodity on the coaching market this spring. The Devils quickly filled Brunette’s void with Travis Green. Green had options but opted for New Jersey as an exciting, up-and-coming team. Ruff is certainly excited to have Green on his staff.
“He’s gonna bring a lot of energy,” Ruff said enthused. “We’re super excited. He’s got a ton of coaching experience. We spent a lot of time talking about young players. I think more than systems and everything else, it’s about how you manage people and I think from the first interview I had with him and talking with Tom, we knew this could be a guy we could hire. It turned out we did and I think we’ve got a great acquisition.”
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