New Jersey Devils' Jack Hughes ready to 'start rolling' following first NHL point

Sporting News

NEWARK, N.J. — It took a little while, in more ways than one, but it's finally official: Jack Hughes has his first NHL point.

In his seventh game, the 2019 first-overall draft pick had to wait a few minutes to be credited with an assist on Miles Wood's second-period goal on Thursday, despite replays showing the puck fluttering after it went off of the shaft of Hughes' stick. Now, the young center is ready for more to come.

"It's just nice to get on the board," he said postgame. "In my head, I think I'm really comfortable with where my game's at. I mean, I could have six or seven points by now. So, I think they're going to start to come a little bit easier now and start rolling."

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Situated between Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri while Nico Hischier sat out with a rib injury, Hughes conceded it wasn't his best game to date and he did post his lowest ice time (13:09) for the season. But the 18-year-old rookie did take note that his first NHL point could steer him in the right direction.

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"Seven out of 10 times I kind of float to the wall," Hughes said, adding with a laugh. "I wouldn't really go to the front of the net so maybe I'll start to go to the front of the net a little bit more."

Despite the lack of scoring, which is something the US-NTDP all-time scoring leader hasn't really experienced before, he's not in unfamiliar company. Thursday night's linemate Hall was also a No. 1 overall pick who didn't come out of the gate firing.

"I just said, I had one point in seven games and after nine games I had five points," the first-overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 2010 said Thursday morning regarding advice he's offered to Hughes. "I think two consecutive two-point games, all of a sudden you're feeling a lot better about yourself. So, really the message was everything can change pretty quickly. I'm sure you want to get on the scoresheet. But, you've seen in the last few games he's had more of an impact on games positively and then as you keep going. There's going to be more droughts throughout his career so hopefully, he can handle this well and get through it."

Of course, someone of Hughes' pedigree is expected to produce immediately like a Connor McDavid, a Sidney Crosby or an Alex Ovechkin. However, droughts are definitely not uncommon for top picks who were forwards. Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, the Islanders No. 1 pick in 2009, had a nine-game and a 12-game goal drought during his rookie season; he's gone on to net 716 points in 756 games between the Islanders and Leafs.

Rick Nash scored in his first NHL game after being selected by the Blue Jackets in 2002, but then waited 12 games for goal nos. 2 and 3. Then-Bruins forward Joe Thornton (1997) only netted seven points in his first 55 games in what will surely be a Hall of Fame career, and Owen Nolan, tapped by the Quebec Nordiques in 1990, had only two goals in his first 14 games and four in his first 20. And let's not forget that Steven Stamkos, he of two Rocket Richard Trophies, earned his first point in Game 8.

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Despite the goal drought to start his career, Hughes has come close to netting that first one.

"Hitting two goalposts didn't make you too happy, did it?," NBC Sports' Mike Milbury asked the teenager in regards to what transpired in Monday's tilt with the Florida Panthers. "No it didn't," Hughes said with a grin, adding "it'll come."

He thought that moment came Thursday night, not realizing the puck went off Wood's derriere.

"I saw him celly pretty hard so I thought he had something to do with it," said Devils forward Blake Coleman with a toothless grin. "I'm sure he got a piece of it and obviously I'm happy for him and that's going to be really big for our team."

Hughes interjected that he hopes his first goal is a little nicer than a tip-in but took the point in stride, stressing how key it was mentally for him to finally get on the board.

"I've been comfortable all seven games now," he said. "I think each game is a little bit of a building block. . . . I think I'm starting to make more plays, have more puck time. With each game I'll get more comfortable I'm sure."

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The floodgates could open now for Hughes, something he and Coleman each hinted at in the locker room. After all, as Hall-of-Famer and 708-goal scorer Mike Gartner once said, "Goals . . . are a little like bananas; they come in bunches."

Ironically, he said that after potting two against the Vancouver Canucks — the same team Hughes faces on Saturday afternoon, and the same one that former Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Vincent Lecavalier victimized first in his storied NHL career — also in game No. 8.

Of course, a first-ever goal coming against the Canucks would have even greater meaning for Hughes as he'll face older brother Quinn for the first time in their young careers.

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