New Jersey Devils C Jack Hughes is considered week-to-week due to an upper-body injury, head coach Lindy Ruff announced Thursday. Hughes played in the first game back from the NHL All-Star break, scoring two goals with an assist in an OT win over the Vancouver Canucks 5-4.
The center missed practice Tuesday for what was called a “maintenance day” by Ruff. On Wednesday, Hughes was on the ice for practice and Ruff said they’d wait and see on his status for Thursday vs. the Seattle Kraken. Well, turns out things are worse than initially thought and now we don’t have a timetable for Hughes’ return.
This has a big impact on a lot of things, including the NHL playoff race, fantasy hockey and how we approach betting the Devils while Hughes is out. We’ll start with the playoff race. New Jersey is six points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for first place in the Metro Division entering Thursday. The Devils have four points on the New York Rangers for second place. Depending on how long Hughes is out, the Devils could be fighting for third place or in the Wild Card.
As for fantasy hockey, you’re not replacing Hughes with anyone on the Devils. The closest thing to an internal replacement would be Dawson Mercer, who could shift back to center on the second line with Hughes out. Let’s take a crack at what lines may look like for Thursday vs. Seattle:
Ondraj Palat — Nico Hischier — Jesper Bratt
Yegor Sharangovich — Dawson Mercer — Alexander Holtz
Tomas Tatar — Erik Haula — Fabian Zetterlund
Miles Wood — Michael McLeod — Nathan Bastian
Holtz makes more sense in the top-6 and he should get a chance to show he wasn’t a first-round bust with Hughes out. Mercer should replace Hughes on the first PP, though we could see Palat, Tatar, Hischier, Bratt and Dougie Hamilton on PP1. That would balance things out a bit. There’s a chance Ruff just blenders the lines and Bratt and Hischier double shift a lot.
Even giving Holtz a crack with Hischier on the top line and balancing the lines with Mercer and Bratt together makes some sense. You could see a similar process with Palat skating with Mercer. We’ll find out soon what the lines look like.
This should put a sense of urgency on GM Tom Fitzgerald before the deadline. Instead of waiting until early March, we should see Fitz and the Devils make a more immediate move to add talent to the top-6 with Hughes out. We could see a smaller, depth move in the short-term to try and compensate for the loss. The Devils have been linked to San Jose Sharks RW Timo Meier. That move may be expedited due to the Hughes injury. This also gives the Devils a chance to showcase Holtz for a potential deal.
Really this only puts a snag on the Devils’ Stanley Cup hopes if Hughes is out long-term. If it’s over a month, the Devils can still get into the playoffs but with a worse seed. If Hughes comes back in a few weeks and the Devils can maintain standing, not much should change.