Sun, 26 Mar 2023

Jack Hughes, Devils ready for new-look Canucks

Field Level Media
06 Feb 2023, 10:40 GMT+10

Jack Hughes got a glimpse at the previous era of the Vancouver Canucks during NHL All-Star Game festivities from Thursday through Saturday.

On Monday night, Hughes and the rest of his teammates get to see the new-look Canucks when the Devils host Vancouver in the first game following the All-StarBreak for each team in Newark, N.J.

Both clubs have been off since earning home wins on Jan. 27, when Hughes scored in overtime to lift the Devils to a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars and Bo Horvat collected four assists in his final game with the Canucks, a 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Horvat, the Canucks' captain, their leading goal-scorer with 31 goals and one of two players from the team selected to appear in the All-Star Game, traveled to Florida with his family following the win over the Blue Jackets. He was at Disney World Jan. 30 when he got the news he'd been traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for left winger Anthony Beauvillier, center Aatu Raty and a protected 2023 first-round pick.

The circumstances of a trying season made it likely the Canucks would trade Horvat, a pending free agent whose contract talks with the club stalled out several weeks ago. Vancouver lost 11 of its last 15 games (4-11-0) before the All-Star break, a stretch that included head coach Bruce Boudreau spending several games as a lame duck while the team negotiated with Rick Tocchet, who officially took the reins when Boudreau was fired Jan. 22.

But Horvat admitted he was surprised to be dealt more than a month ahead of the March 3 trade deadline.

"You never think about getting a trade call -- ever," Horvat said at the All-Star Game media day last Thursday. "To actually get one, it was definitely weird."

The weirdness continued as Horvat continued representing the Canucks, along with center Elias Pettersson, during All-Star weekend. Horvat had an assist on one of Pettersson's goals in the Pacific Division's 6-4 loss to the Central Division.

"We talked about it: 'Whatever happens, just make sure we score one together,'" Pettersson said.

While Pettersson -- who leads the Canucks with 58 points -- will turn his attention towards Vancouver's rebuilding effort, Hughes, the Devils' lone representative at All-Star Weekend, has his eyes set on his first trip to the playoffs.

The Devils finished in seventh or eighth place in their division in each of Hughes' first three NHL seasons. But New Jersey opened this season by winning 21 of its first 26 games (21-4-1), a stretch that included a franchise record-tying 13-game winning streak.

They'll begin the second half in second place in the Metropolitan Division with 68 points, 11 points ahead of the second wild card, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Hughes leads the Devils with 33 goals, which are the most by a New Jersey player since Taylor Hall had 39 goals in 2017-18, the only time the club has qualified for the playoffs since falling in the Stanley Cup Final in the spring of 2012.

With four of their top five scorers -- Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer -- all 24 or younger, the Devils could be well-positioned for a run of sustained success and, perhaps, multiple representatives in future All-Star Games.

"I think we believe we have something special in New Jersey," said Hughes, who didn't have a point in the Metropolitan Division's 10-6 loss to the Atlantic Division. "We're hoping with that team success there is going to be a lot of individual success as well. So hopefully, there'll be multiple Devils at All-Star Games for a bunch of years to come."

--Field Level Media

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