The New Jersey Devils have two first round picks, which also means two picks in this year’s SB Nation NHL Mock Draft. At fourth overall, we picked defenseman Luke Hughes of the USNTDP. This post contains our reasoning and why he was picked over other prospects.
As is tradition here at SB Nation, the site managers of the 31 (and soon to be 32) team blogs got together for a mock draft of the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Trades were made. Names were announced. And so this is the post that goes into why we picked who we picked. This was done in parallel with our own internal mock draft of the first round here at All About the Jersey. That one is done among all of us. Brian helped me make the choice for the SBN Mock Draft. The choice for the New Jersey Devils at fourth overall was Luke Hughes, defenseman of the United States National Team Development Program.
Brian kicked off our profile series for the 2021 NHL Draft with this prospect profile of Luke Hughes. I encourage you all to read it for more details about what this Hughes brother brings to the table.
In case you are totally unaware, Luke Hughes is indeed the younger brother of 2019 first overall pick and budding stud for the New Jersey Devils, “The Big Deal” Jack Hughes. He is also the younger brother of ace offensive defenseman Quinn Hughes of Vancouver. Hughes has been touted as a popular choice for the New Jersey for those reasons.
However, those are just peripheral as to why Brian and I ultimately chose Hughes. The bigger factors are what Hughes is as a prospect. In summary: he is a fantastic skater, he has a lot of offensive skill, and his relative youth – he is one of the younger prospects in this year’s draft class – suggests even more room for growth. It is common for drafted prospects to have a need or could use improvements to their skating. Hughes is one of the few prospects with potentially high-end skill where his skating mechanics and speed are arguably his best assets.
What’s more is that selecting Hughes does fill a need for the Devils’ future. The Devils’ prospect pool is light on offensive defensemen. And as we have seen throughout the league, someone who is adept at activating from the point, leading or contributing to a breakout, and being able to distribute and direct from distance can be very valuable. Especially if they are excellent in motion. Hughes could easily be the team’s best offensive defenseman prospect since 2012 second round selection Damon Severson and 2018 first round selection Ty Smith. His upside could easily surpass Severson and even Smith.
It is true that it will take a few years before Luke Hughes should be expected to make the jump to the NHL. This should not be a surprise. I struggle to think who in the 2021 NHL Draft Class is truly ready for NHL hockey. Hughes will go to Michigan for at least next season, which is a great program for him to thrive in. Just like Zach Werenski, his brother Quinn Hughes, Cam York and Owen Power can attest to. He will be able to focus more on his defensive zone play as well harness his offensive skills further at a tougher level than USHL/USNTDP hockey. After a season or two in college, he may be ready for the pro game and then he can hit the ice and contribute to a Devils team that is hopefully good enough to bring him into the organization without expecting him to be amazing immediately. If you like what Ty Smith can do going forward, then imagine a blueline where the team can roll out either Smith or Hughes on attack – or even both of them. It is exciting to think about.
While the narrative of drafting Jack’s brother (and Quinn’s brother) will persist, the Devils selecting Luke Hughes at fourth overall would be a great selection given what they need in their system and what Hughes can do as a prospective player.
Other Options at #4 in the 2021 SBN Mock Draft
This was not an easy choice to make. The first three picks were Owen Power, Matthew Beniers, and Dylan Guenther. Trying to decide between forward William Eklund and Luke Hughes was a tough one. I deferred to Brian, who prefers Hughes over Eklund on the basis of Hughes’ addressing the Devils mid-to-long term needs on defense and his upside compared to the other defensemen available in this draft class. That said, here are some of the other available options that we could have taken in the order of most desirable in my view:
- William Eklund (profiled here by Jenna) could end up being the best forward in this draft class. There’s not a lot that Eklund does not do seemingly well. Shoot. Skate. Pass. Attack. Go into the tougher areas. Roam around the perimeter. He already has played a lot with Alexander Holtz, the Devils’ first round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. As much as defense may be more of a need positionally, a player of Eklund’s quality is really hard to pass up on. Especially if that quality could yield a line of Eklund, Holtz, and centered by either Nico Hischier or The Big Deal. There would be goals from that line. A lot of goals, even. While Luke Hughes was the choice, I would not fault you even a little bit if you stated in the comments that you wanted Eklund to be the mock draft pick.
- Brandt Clarke (profiled here by Mike) could be a solid choice to go ahead of Hughes as a defenseman. Clarke is a right-handed defenseman with plenty of offensive skill to his name. He was a standout at the World U18s as Canada’s top defenseman and power play defenseman. He has shown his offensive and defensive qualities in Slovakia on loan this season. The issue is his skating, specifically how he actually takes strides. It may be something that could hinder him at the next level – or it could not. Given that Hughes is the superior skater, I prefer him over Clarke. But if you believe in his skills and that his skating mechanics can get better or not be a big deal at the next level, then I do not fault you if you prefer Clarke over Hughes.
- Kent Johnson (profiled here by Jenna) has been described as a video game hockey player. The guy just flies and roams and attacks in all kinds of ways that you wonder if he has an aim-assist or running on a complex algorithm on the ice. The main issues with him are two-fold. One, would his dazzling skillset continue to shine in the pros? Two, will he realize that his tendency to extend plays or take over may work against him? There is definitely a boom-or-bust feeling with Johnson, but given that the boom could be a top scoring winger – that is not something to completely discount.
- Jesper Wallstedt (profiled here by Brian) is a goaltender. I really do not want the Devils to draft a goaltender at fourth overall. Unless that goaltender turns out to be someone with legit Hockey Hall of Fame aspirations, it is a big gamble to take one. But if there is one to take, it is Jesper Wallstedt. He has been an underage stud in the net in Sweden and spent his draft eligible season as a regular for Luleå HF in the SHL. His technical skills are as good as you can ask for from a goaltending prospect. It would be huge swing, but hitting on a goaltender can help make a team great. I think Mackenzie Blackwood is a successful pick so New Jersey really does not need to roll the dice on Wallstedt. I mostly mentioned him here for this next point.
- Simon Edvinsson (profiled here by me) is considered to be among the top defensemen in this year’s draft class with Owen Power, Hughes, and Clarke. Out of the four, I think Edvinsson is the riskiest. While I can understand his big potential, he may not be able to meet that and I do not know if the floor is the Devils should be aiming higher than just someone who is large and has potential on defense. If Power, Hughes, and Clarke go #1 – #3 (which they did not in this mock draft), then I would want the Devils to select one of the top forwards in this class instead of settling on Edvinsson. I would even entertain the idea of Wallstedt before Edvinsson.
Again, I can totally understand if you disagree and you think the mock draft pick should have been Eklund or even Clarke. I (and Brian) still believe that Luke Hughes would be a great selection either way at fourth overall. He has been touted as one of the top defensemen available in this draft class for a reason, he is one of the draft’s best skaters, and he has the skillset that should fit in very well in the Devils’ prospect pool and future.
I encourage you to give us your take on our mock draft pick for SBN. Who would you have picked at fourth overall after Power, Beniers, and Guenther? Would you have also picked Luke Hughes? Would have went with Eklund or Clarke instead? Or perhaps someone else entirely? Why? Please let us know in the comments and/or even vote in our poll for our SBN Mock Draft pick. Our own mock will come out a little later this month. Please check out SB Nations’ page for the 2021 mock draft for the other picks. Thank you for reading.