The success he had with the NTDP hadn’t quite translated to overwhelming success as a rookie in the NHL though, but that isn’t something to be worried about according to Devils interim head coach Alain Nasreddine.
“At this point it’s just time. There’s no secret that he’s young. He’s 18; he’s got to grow into his body; he’s got to add some strength; he’s gotta add some muscles and that’s basically what’s holding him back I would say right now,” Nasreddine said of Hughes’s development Thursday during an appearance on Hockey Central. “I think everyone can see the talent. Everyone can see what he can bring to the game but right now it’s a tough league. It’s a men’s league.”
Hughes, listed at 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds, registered seven goals and 21 points in 61 games with the Devils, which ranked 16th among NHL rookies in 2019-20.
“Obviously (the point production) wasn’t there this year but that doesn’t mean he didn’t progress,” Nasreddine said. “It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the potential to become a star. It’s just going to be a process and we just have to be patient, starting with himself, but eventually he will get there. When is that gonna be? Is that going to be if we come back in July if we ever come back? Is it going to be next year? I don’t have the answer but at some point he’s going to be an impactful player in the NHL.”
Hughes isn’t the only first-overall pick currently on the Devils roster. Nico Hischier was taken in the top spot in 2017 and didn’t necessarily blow people away in his first season.
The rising Swiss star is no point-per-game forward – at least not yet – but has improved in nearly every area since debuting in the NHL.
“He’s a tremendous hockey player,” Nasreddine said. “I think people forget because he’s already been in the league for three years but he’s still a young, young hockey player. A lot has been put on his shoulders from his first year.”
Nasreddine said he thinks Hischier “took the next step” as a leader on and off the ice after the team traded Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes in mid-December.
“He wants this team to be his team,” Nasreddine added. “He’s become more mature. He’s becoming a great, elite two-way player in this league already and he’s only 21 years old.”
Hischier signed a seven-year, $50.75-million contract extension in October that takes effect beginning next season.