New Jersey Devils franchise forward, Jack Hughes, doesn’t want to hear about last season anymore.
The Devils had their best regular season in franchise history in 2022-23. They collected 112 points, good enough for third overall in the NHL. If it weren’t for the Carolina Hurricanes also playing so well, they might have finished first in the Metropolitan Division instead of second.
As a parallel, Hughes unquestionably had the best season in his young career, too. In 78 games, Hughes collected 43 goals and 56 assists for 99 points, the most in his young career in all three categories thus far.
The thing is, although New Jersey has been a bit better since Hughes’ and Nico Hischier’s return from injuries, the Devils can still be a lot better on the ice. Consequently, Hughes and the Devils are often asked about the difference between 2022-23 and the current season.
“I don’t know, man,” Hughes said with a scoff following New Jersey’s 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders. “We talk about last year way too much. We were good, but we gotta put that in the rearview mirror, we know we have a really good hockey club in here and now it’s just about doing it night after night. Even tonight, we probably didn’t play a full 60 minutes but, two weeks ago I said, ‘Good teams find a way to win those games.’ Tonight, we were that team.”
Hughes doesn’t want to hear about last season anymore. It was just a stepping stone to the grand scheme. The main goal for any player in the NHL. Winning the Stanley Cup.
New Jersey was largely viewed as a Stanley Cup favorite coming into the 2023-24 season. They kept their core together locking up Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier to long-term, eight-year contracts. However, there was still quite the turnover with the supporting cast as seven players departed this summer. As a result, there’s plenty of new blood in the lineup.
As Jack stated, the Devils know they’re a good team. Injuries certainly hampered New Jersey to begin the season, however, they’re not quite off to the roaring start they were in 2022-23.
Not many anticipated the Devils to make the jump quite like they did last season. This year, they’re not surprising anyone anymore. Teams are better prepared for the Devils which means they’ll need to not only play that heavy puck possession/pressure system we’re used to seeing but also find new ways to win games as well.
“I tell (Jack) when I’m talking about last year that last year is last year,” head coach Lindy Ruff told New Jersey Hockey Now. “The parity in the league now, the competition in the league from game to game is so tough. It’s it’s a totally different year. You can’t say, ‘Well, last year we did this.’ You have to find new ways (to win) from year to year.”
The Devils have been able to figure out how to stay afloat. As of Thursday morning, they’re just four points out of playoff position. It’s not quite standings watch season yet. However, New Jersey will want to collect as many points as possible early as things become tougher as the season progresses.
Last Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres was a good start. New Jersey certainly dominated the even-strength play as we’re used to seeing. Believe it or not, they did the same against the Islanders, too. They just fell victim to some poor defensive decisions and leaky goaltending.
The Devils still aren’t completely healthy, either. Timo Meier is progressing, yet still isn’t ready. Tomas Nosek has yet to practice. Erik Haula is banged up, too, and the timeline isn’t quite clear on his return. The confidence in the locker room and with management is high that the ship will right itself. Collecting four points in the last two games certainly helps, too. And they should hopefully play well against a division rival in the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.
All things considered, Hughes doesn’t want to hear about last season anymore. Neither does Ruff. The Devils don’t want the 2022-23 season to become their identity. Instead, they are looking to build on that success and evolve from it. It starts with the mentality, and Hughes is certainly in the right frame of mind as a leader in New Jersey’s locker room. That should instill the same principle in everyone.