Newark — When you’re a rookie and you hear your name in the same breath as Hall-of-Fame defensemen, it’s certainly a shot in the arm. New Jersey Devils rookie Luke Hughes likely didn’t need the confidence boost after scoring the game-tying goal during the third period of Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory, however, he’s drawing some high praise.
With the Devils down 3-2 late in the third period and Vitek Vanecek on the Devils’ bench, Jack Hughes left the puck for his brother, Luke, at New Jersey’s goal line. With speed, the 19-year-old defenseman skated the puck from one coast to the other, split all five Columbus Blue Jackets skaters on the ice, and scored the game-tying goal to send the tilt to overtime.
Ironically, Hughes was the shot in the arm the Devils needed. New Jersey surrendered the lead to Columbus thrice on Wednesday. It wasn’t until Luke’s goal that the Devils were finally able to secure the necessary momentum to gain their first lead which wound up as the game-winning goal in overtime by Timo Meier.
In fact, Meier was on the ice when Hughes netted the dazzling goal and was almost at a loss for words when reminiscing upon it.
“You just smile,” Meier explained. “I saw it close up and saw how good it was. Yeah, unbelievable.”
The Devils’ head coach, however, had a lot to say about Luke’s goal. He even drew some legendary comparisons to the rookie defenseman.
“I think when you see that, you start taking of some of the great skaters in the game,” Lindy Ruff explained. “You think of great skating defenseman such as Brian Leetch, you think of Paul Coffey. You automatically start thinking of other guys that can get up the ice. He did that a couple of times tonight where he really showed a burst. Incredible goal.”
Perhaps, Devils legend Scott Niedermayer would have been an appropriate comparison to Hughes. Regardless, that’s some incredibly high praise. Both Leetch and Coffey are 1,000-plus point defensemen, Stanley Cup Champions, multi-Norris Trophy winners, and multi-All-Stars. Certainly, Hughes still has plenty to prove, but from a skill standpoint, it’s easy to see the parallels.
However, if you ask Luke he insists his game is more similar to Chicago Blackhawks legend Duncan Keith. Keith might not have had the points Leetch and Coffey accrued, but the rest of the bill fits.
Following the overtime victory, only John Marino had more ice time than Hughes and Simon Nemec. Ruff is showing a level of confidence in his rookie defenseman that even he might not have guessed he’d have before the start of the season. By the end of the 62-plus minute affair, Nemec and Hughes finished with 22:37 & 20:41 of time on ice respectively.
“I think when you look at the offensive side of it, they’re the next New Jersey Devils that’s going to carry that offensive flag,” Ruff explained. “They’re the guys that we need to be in on the offensive in overtime. They need to be in the offense. That’s really their role on this team, and that’s what they are. I know it’s tough on a young player, but when asked, I think both kids have done a great job with getting involved and getting up ice.”
Hughes is ranked second in rookie scoring among defensemen with 17 points. He trails only Pavel Mintyukov of the Anaheim Ducks by a single point.
Hughes’ play this season will likely keep him in the Calder Trophy conversation. He might not win the NHL’s best rookie accolade with Connor Bedard seemingly already the favorite. But, it’s just the start of a long, promising career for Hughes who is already drawing comparisons to Hall-of-Fame talents. There’s certainly a path for Hughes to take that’s reminiscent of the legends he’s drawn comparisons to already.