Hughes was a very good top six forward last year, but as more data is compiled and tabulated, it just showcases even more how much he helped the Devils when on the ice.
Last season, his second in the NHL, Jack Hughes was a definitive positive on the ice for the New Jersey Devils. He proved himself to be a valuable teammate, and showed his worth as a former #1 overall selection. We know this from the goals he scored, the goals he assisted on, his ability to drive play, and the fact that he was making those around him better.
However, there are other interesting tidbits to note about his game from last year. JFresh, on Twitter, has recently been posting league leaders last season in some non-traditional categories, like defensive-zone turnover leaders, passes per 60 minutes leaders, and more. And in some of them, areas of the game you might not initially notice, it is interesting to see how Jack Hughes really contributed in a positive way. The one that was fairly obvious to me, one that is more noticeable, was the list of those who generated the most takeaways. Hughes has been strong with stealing the puck and generating takeaways since entering the league, and it has led to opportune chances on the offensive end of the ice many times. Here is the list linked to from JFresh:
Averaging over 16 takeaways per 60 even strength minutes is exceptional, and keeps him near the top of the forward list. It is a very strong aspect of his game which helps to keep the ice tilted in NJ’s direction.
However, there are a couple of other interesting categories where he shined last year, and in my opinion, they are sort of related. First, check out this one: Zone Entries per 60. These are the forwards who carried the puck into the offensive zone the most at even strength, helping to create offensive chances by setting up the offense in the zone, not simply dumping the puck in. Jack, as it turns out, was one of the best at doing that last season.
Only Mathew Barzal entered the offensive zone more with the puck on his stick than Jack Hughes did, among forwards. Per 60 minutes of even strength ice time, Hughes entered the offensive zone in possession of the puck 24 and a half times, which is remarkably high. Thanks to him, the Devils were not dumping and chasing, and were not relying on chance to gain the zone and set up the play. He was making it happen on his own, doing it quite often, and doing it successfully.
Not only that, however, but he was doing this on both sides of the ice. Not only was he entering the zone successfully with possession, but he was also one of the top forwards in terms of exiting the defensive zone and getting the puck up ice with possession. Again, check out the list from JFresh:
Among all forwards, only Artemi Panarin exited the defensive zone more with possession of the puck than Jack at even strength. Thanks to him, the Devils were taking less icing penalties and were tilting the ice back in their favor as he possessed the puck out of the zone and through the neutral zone. Once again, this isn’t something that is necessarily noticed overtly, but is something that is vastly beneficial to the team, and something that he should be praised for.
When you combine those last two together, I believe that they paint a picture of a forward who was very comfortable and successful with the puck on his stick. He wants the puck on his stick at all times. He wants to get it out of danger and into the neutral zone, and he wants to be the one carrying it into the offensive zone to set up scoring plays. But, of course, as a playmaking forward he is not one to hoard the puck either and leave his teammates out to dry. To wrap a bow on it, he also is near the top of the list of forwards who pass the puck the most. Check it out:
So he wants the puck on his stick to leave the defensive zone, and to enter the offensive zone, but beyond that, and especially once the play is set up offensively, he wants to dish the puck to his scoring wingers. Only Barzal and Leon Draisaitl passed the puck more per 60 minutes at even strength, showcasing this. It really is something. Give him the puck to do the tough, unsung jobs of getting the puck up ice, but then he is happy to give it up to do the flashy job of scoring goals. You honestly cannot ask for more from a top 6 playmaking forward, which is exactly what he is, only two years in the league and still not 21 years of age. And considering that he still will improve as he ages over the next few seasons, the future is very bright indeed.