Who Better to Punctuate This Summer's Massive Migration of Talent to the New Jersey Devils Than The Goose Himself
You know, when the celebration of this offseason title finally subsides, there should be no shortage of apologies addressed to the man that turned a bad team with money to burn into one of the NHL’s most exciting rosters in the short time it typically takes for some fans to convince themselves that they are better at his job. Honestly, I want strong consideration given to constructing a confessional booth on the Prudential Center concourse between now and opening night for preseason use by any and every idiot that slandered Ray Shero for his reluctance to commit the sins of cap-strapped teams before him by falling victim to the fool’s errand that is free agency. I don’t know about you, but the irony of him being able to give Devils’ twitter exactly who they desperately wanted - with the shrewd acquisition of the best player outside the NHL - solely because he left them to spend a season-plus screaming into an empty void of an echo chamber while obsessing over the prospect of overpaying for past performance isn’t lost on me.
As for the actual player that serves as the next chapter of what’s been a quick and complete organizational rewrite, I’m not sure there’s anything other than his nationality that’s not to love. Once you get over the entirely understandable and otherwise undying trust issues that come with New Jersey signing another offensive-minded Russian, Nikita Gusev perfectly fits the bill of what the Devils openly prioritized at the very public request of their impending free agent of an MVP...
If absolutely nothing else, he is pretty much the personification of talent. He might not be the most physically imposing or fleet of foot of talent, but the skillset of someone that compares favorably to a New York Ranger that shall remain nameless are as undeniable on the ice as they are in the analytics...
How well it’ll translate to the NHL can obviously be questioned, but its existence can not. The player that owns two KHL MVP awards and the second highest scoring season in league history has star-power potential and he’s joining a team that hardly even needs him to fully realize it as he is presumably the final, complimentary piece to a formidable Top-6. With the risk of throwing in some ‘B’ level assets in order to pay an unproven commodity nine million over two years being minimized by the fact that the Devils don’t need full financial flexibility until those seasons have elapsed, it becomes pretty hard to envision it not being easily matched by the reward of rostering a preposterous amount of puck skills.
Whether or not the Goose takes flight towards the top of a lineup that’ll cater to his creativity remains to be seen, but Ray Shero’s laser-focused vision for the long-term future of the franchise he’s built from the barest of bones is not. Championship contention isn’t exactly around the corner, but it’s a hell of a lot closer than it was in April. That’s due in large part to the possibilities that patience provides, and those possibilities appear damn near endless with the Devils renovating their roster by adding Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Ty Smith, Nikita Gusev, and potentially Jesper Boqvist to a flock that’ll look almost unrecognizable for all the right reasons.
In What Will Surely Serve as a Stick to the Craw of Flyers' Fans, The Devils Have Signed Wayne Simmonds to a One-Year Deal
Please welcome all the impatient Devils' fans that spent all of last offseason (and, unbelievably enough, the last couple of hours of this offseason) incessantly whining for Ray Shero to go blind to his future budget for the temporary thrill of overspending to the wonderful world of free agency! It's a highly stressful place where your options are either obnoxiously expensive, entirely over-the-hill, or all of the above. Can't believe the Devils didn't decide to vacation here sooner!!!
In all seriousness, as far as flawed players who aren't worth 5 million dollars are concerned, I actually like Wayne Simmonds fit in the Devils' lineup. So long as his role is limited one, there is very little risk associated with adding a player who adds a rare combination of talent and toughness to an undersized lineup for one season during which the continuation of his career as an impactful NHLer hangs in the balance.
If that's not convincing enough for you then go rewind last season's game tape and try to watch the Devils' 2nd powerplay unit operate for more than 45 seconds without being brought to the saltiest of tears. If absolutely nothing else, Wayne Simmonds gives them endless options with the extra man as the type of net-front, pain-in-the-ass presence that actually has puck skills.
Now, I can't say I love inserting an old and slow defensive liability into a lineup that has young players who better fit the team's collective style banging on its door. For example, if Wayne Simmonds is what gets an NHL-ready Jesper Boqvist sent back to Sweden for another season then I'll lose my shit. I have an extremely hard time believing that's a legitimate possibility at this point in their rebuild, but it's one of the very few concerns I have about adding a player that brings attributes that the Devils don't otherwise have.
All in all, the reward might be limited to a 15-20 goal prick of a powerplay specialist who plays sparingly at even strength in the bottom-six. However, the risk is next to nothing for a team that's got a pretty populated nest to protect and could easily afford to sign a burning pile of money to a ten million dollar deal so long as the fire extinguished after this season.
Plus, can you really put a price that can be measured in AAV on the Flyers signing Kurtis Gabriel within the same 60-minute span as their fans finding out that one of their most beloved shit-stirrers took his tenacity up the Turnpike?
If you recall, the last we saw PK Subban he was really struggling to make ends meet in trying to dress properly for a celebration of new beginnings...
Well, the Devils lent him a helping hand to make sure he made David Puddy proud by, ya know, supporting the team, and I got to be honest folks...not even sitting cross-legged on a hardwood floor can rid me of this paranoid feeling that I am about to have the rug pulled out from under me. I don't know what feels more like a photoshop, seeing the provocative PK Subban in red and black after all these years or just seeing literally any legitimate #1 number defenseman in red and black after all these years. Whatever the case may be, if my eyes don't deceive me then my mind does, as it has yet to fully process that one the most electrifying talents in the NHL is going to be calling New Jersey's blue line home.
I'm assuming I won't have the opportunity to sneak my way onto the ice to gently caress the face of #76 in making a proactive pitch for it sink in that such a special specimen can actually still exist on the Devils' backend, as if my brain convinced itself that the concept of a first-pairing defenseman was deceased within the organization or something. Therefore, I think I'm going to need someone to pinch me or punch me prior to October. The days of Scott Niedermayer effortlessly wheelin' around Continental Airlines Arena were far too long ago for me not to feel like I just caught a glimpse of a fresh spring off in the distance while crawling dehydrated through the desert. Like, are we entirely sure that Lou Lamoriello didn't body-snatch Ray Shero and is just waiting to unveil that the whole trade was a hoax as revenge for letting Nico Hischier wear #13? Past his prime or not, I'm still wary that the visual of PK Subban flashing his 1,000 watt smile from under a Devils' helmet is a long con, as I've become astonishingly accustomed to New Jersey's defense being an complete joke.
The Devils' Twitter Fired the Initial Shot of the Hughes/Kakko Era, and It Was a Pretty Damn Good One
The truth of the matter is that the New Jersey Devils have far too much going right for them as a franchise that, after one turn of a clock, now boasts endless intrigue for me to be all that concerned with what's currently burning in James Dolan's dumpster fire.
That said, with the schedule having just been released, a rivalry having just been reinvigorated, and a Finnish freak having just been sentenced to a commercial flight into a public airport where an awkward and embarrassing display of fandom awaited, the time was definitely right for Devils' twitter to strike...
Rangers' fans can claim that rare objectively funny pun is proof of the Devils never letting their biggest rival out of their head, as they are too uncreative to think up a more clever retort to 'The Rock' being entirely unwelcoming of the NHL Draft's runner-up come October. However, with their own team's account having deleted their despondent draft pick's hilarious hostage video, I'm not sure they have much room to point out the insecurities of others at the moment...
Fact is, in the form of PK Subban, this past weekend's biggest splash was made on the New Jersey side of a Hudson River that now separates two teams that have made significant steps forward. That, of course, says next to nothing about the outcome of the blood feud that will play out on the ice over the next decade, but as far as the oh-so-important internet is concerned? Big brother is, for the time being, getting noogie'd to hell and back by a first class organization that is suddenly looking about as endearing to the casual fan as one Jack Hughes.
Realistically, when you consider Ray Shero's unspoken affinity for American-born players and John Hynes' history in coaching them, it's pretty easy to envision the Devils' scouting staff keeping a keen eye on Patrick Moynihan regardless of his former teammate's understandably biased thoughts on how he projects as a pro.
That said, with New Jersey welcoming both Jack Hughes and PK Subban in a window so small that it barely offered Devils' fans an opportunity to breath, the world we live in is now surreal. Therefore, I'm all for taking some liberties with the truth and letting myself believe that the most electric prospect in franchise history was doing amateur scouting on behalf of the organization before he had even become a part of it.
Hell, at the very least, he was cocksure enough in his own draft standing to use his first question to the team with which he saw himself spending his foreseeable future as a chance to talk up another prospect. I can only speak for myself, I suppose, but there are certainly on-ice opinions I'd value less than the one belonging to a player I had my sights set on selecting first overall. Especially when he drags his balls all over the ground he eventually left the room on in going entirely out of his way to correct me in making such a convincing case for someone other than himself.
The truth is that Patrick Moynihan was probably pretty close to the next man up on the Devils' draft board at Pick #158 with or without the prior input from Pick #1, but how can you not let yourself believe in the lore of a white lie when the last 72 hours feel like a fairy tale of a fantasy anyway?
I shouldn't be as shocked as I am. Perhaps that's a feeling that comes naturally with an unprecedented and expedited influx of skill, creativity, personality, swag, and charisma (never mind high jersey numbers) into a lineup that might well have left Lou Lamoriello in need of a Xanax and a 1995 Stanley Cup Championship VHS. However, the moves, as impactful as they'll presumably be to the present and the future of the organization that almost immediately went from one appearance on national television last season to being one of the most intriguing teams in the entire league next season, aren't anything we shouldn't have seen coming.
I was skeptical that the most dispiriting price tag on a formidable first-pairing defenseman wouldn't be the one that was preceded by a dollar sign, but leave it to Ray Shero to pull off a heist in doing exactly what he said he was going to do all along. That, of course, being the use of a little luck, a lot of patience, and some maniacal cap management to push the Devils into contention at the perfect time. With Taylor Hall stopping just one step short of begging for a real reason to make New Jersey the place where he can attempt to do some all-too-elusive winning, that perfect time wasn't any one of countless times fickle fans bitched for Ray Shero to majorly overpay in making a minor move for the sake of making a move. Rather, it was the 24 hour window in which the franchise was given the type of facelift that leaves you in complete disbelief of what your suddenly seeing in the mirror.
Regardless of what happened at the World Championships, Jack Hughes was basically an inevitable addition. The Devils now have the type of one-two punch down the middle that's knocked out no shortage of playoff opponents throughout recent Cup runs. Perhaps just as importantly, that second punch is one that is liable to completely take your breathe away as quite easily the most dynamic offensive prospect the franchise has ever gotten their hands on at a time when dynamism is at an absolute premium throughout the NHL. It might not be from Day 1, as the kid could definitely benefit from sprouting a few more ass hairs, so to speak, but Jack Hughes was born to be a game-changer.
In that sense, it makes total sense as to why his selection is what ultimately changed the way Ray Shero was playing the high-risk game of rebuilding. Make no mistake, trading for PK Subban is a risk, as he is now past his prime and performing below his pay grade. However, it's a risk that's almost entirely mitigated by giving up a package centered around a former 7th round pick, albeit one that has developed into much more, for a player at a position of desperate need whose prime literally had him atop the conversation for best defenseman in the league. As far as I know, 90 out of 100 is still an 'A', and there are hardly any blue-liners on the Devils that could have dreamed of grading out with Scott Stevens-level scores over the last few seasons. This is a massive upgrade that makes the depth throughout the right side of the Devils' defense flat out dangerous. It might be one that's objectively overpriced, but it's one whose expiration date so conveniently coincides with those of entry level steals like Jack Hughes and Ty Smith that you'd think this was all planned out years in advance if that were even remotely possible.
Despite his seat getting hotter, mostly just amongst a petty and premature public opinion, Ray Shero repeatedly maintained that everyone should just chill before filling the two biggest holes on his roster in less than 24 hours. Admittedly, this all feels like a franchise-altering blur, but this is a picture that was outlined ad nauseam by the man that just painted a large portion of his masterpiece. It may have become harder and harder to hear him out, but if you did then you shouldn't be quite as dumbfounded by debatably the fiercest fleecer of cap-strapped teams continuing to do what he's done best in picking first overall and making a lop-sided trade for the type of talent that you usually need far more than money to buy.
I don't know about you, but I'm starting to think he may have been onto something more than serendipity in not sacrificing a long-term vision that's blindingly brighter than it has ever been for a short-term payoff of a couple more points in the standings. It was a great "day" to be New Jersey Devils' fan, which means it was also a great day to be their MVP...
To be clear, it really shouldn't be all that comforting that the General Manager of a young NHL team on the rise isn't worried about sparing the feelings of his competition in the cutthroat quest to acquire more talent. It really should be common sense that Ray Shero, or anyone else in his position, would take full advantage of every opportunity contractually afforded to him in making his team better. Unfortunately, lazy narrative or not, history speaks to that not being the case, as some sort of unspoken gentleman's agreement makes for a better explanation than anything else that might explain the continued absence of offer sheets throughout the NHL over the years.
So, while I don't know that I'd want Ray Shero to go down such an asset-expensive path in improving his roster, it is good to know that he's not the type to shy away from taking a long look down it like some of the executives that frame their cowardice as consideration. "Fuck that shit" couldn't possibly do a better job mirroring my feelings on the matter of playing nice with other negotiators, so I'm glad it came out of the filterless mouth of the man tasked with taking the New Jersey Devils to the next level by any stupidly stigmatized means necessary.
If robbing cap-strapped teams of their restricted free agents is wrong then Ray Shero clearly isn't overly worried about being right. That's exactly the type of mindset you want your primary decision maker to have when you're in the business of risk-taking, never mind one that hopefully has over-anxious Devils' fans putting a pin in their pissing and moaning, at least until we're anywhere remotely near the eye of the offseason storm.
What does this mean, you ask? Well, other than that the New Jersey Devils were universally understood to be the poster boys for a strangling level of defensive dominance en route to winning three Stanley Cups between the mid-90's and early 2000's, less than absolutely nothing.
In fact, I'd go as far as saying that it even being referred to as though it might have some underlying relevance to an unsourced trade rumor of some sort speaks more to the point here, which is that Devils' fans are quickly approaching the cliff towards full-blown Crazy Town if they aren't soon offered the opportunity to feel even a little bullish about the team's blue line.
Ray Shero, heed these words. I'm not even sure it gets more conspiratorial than studying the semantics in reading into PK Subban making easy-to-absorb basketball analogies to an ESPN audience that is half-witted towards hockey. However, if it does then you might as well make the first promotion a tinfoil hate giveaway if no NHL-caliber defensemen are added prior to October. I can't imagine Taylor Hall would be too ecstatic about the idea of continuing to receive outlet passes off the glass after spending 30 seconds a shift chasing the puck while his defensemen chase their own tail for the foreseeable future, and if he wants out then straight jackets might have to come complimentary with season tickets. Therefore, I strongly suggest some reinforcements are made to the backend so that a throwaway mention on 'First Take' is no longer the last resort of impatient Devils' fans who are near certain their pets heads are about to start falling off.
Jesper Boqvist, One of the Big Fish in the Devils' Prospect Pool, Has Finally Signed a 3-Year Entry Level Deal
And now, we wait.
As Jack Hughes gets ready to fulfill what has been his destiny for all of...::checks calendar::...two months and Devils' fans clench their asscheeks while clutching their Taylor Hall jerseys in preparation for what better be an eventful offseason, consider this signing to be a fairly good fail safe. Second to only a blueline that, figuratively speaking, is bereft of reasons to live, I think it's a pretty universally held opinion that New Jersey should be prioritizing the collection of high-level skill to flank their soon-to-be solid center depth.
Jesper Boqvist, although entirely unproven on North American ice, unquestionably fits that bill as a dynamic offensive asset regardless of what happens between now and October. Whether or not he has danced enough Swedes in developing enough physically to make the team out of camp is probably about as reliant on his performance in said camp as it is on the outside additions made prior to it. However, he makes for a highly intriguing back-up plan for a team that hasn't exactly made a habit of owning the rights to top-six level skill-sets.
As of right now, it's naively optimistic to pencil Boqvist in as a second line left wing for a team whose 'Hart' wants it wants, which is to play meaningful hockey beyond April. That said, it's nice that the Devils have another offensive option at their disposal as their fans have laid witness to far less provocative worst case scenarios than the one that has them deploying a multi-Jesper attack atop their lineup.
TheAthletic- This is a big summer for Taylor Hall, who has one year left on his contract with the New Jersey Devils.
There’s been healthy communication between his camp led by agent Darren Ferris and Devils GM Ray Shero, although I’m told that things have not yet progressed to the actual beginning of negotiations. So, no numbers yet.
Really where things stand as of now is that Hall is contemplating his future and at some point will re-convene with Ferris to decide how they want to proceed.
But I also don’t think this is a “Sign on July 1 or you’re traded” scenario. I don’t think Shero wants to get boxed in by artificial deadlines. As long as there’s a chance Hall might eventually be willing to sign an extension, I think Shero would want to keep that window open. In other words, if it means waiting until November or January to get it done, so be it.
Obviously, it’s a different thing if Hall decides outright that he wants to go to the UFA market in July 2020 and lets the Devils know this summer. That probably changes things for Shero depending on the kind of trade offers he would receive.
But at this hour, there’s no reason to believe Hall isn’t interested in entering negotiations. There certainly hasn’t been any indication otherwise.
TFP- As the Devils try to convince the 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall to sign a long-term extension with the organization, multiple well-placed sources have told TFP the 27-year-old, as of now, is not interested in signing a new deal with the club.
Devils GM Ray Shero has had an open dialogue with Hall’s agent, Darren Ferris, but it appears that for the time being, an extension is not in the cards.
Ferris declined to comment about negotiations when contacted by TFP.
“Ray and I communicate regularly and to respect the process I am unable to provide you with any details,” Ferris said via text message.
As inevitable as it was that the uncertain future of the still reigning NHL MVP would get gratuitously beaten to death as a source of clicks leading up to the last year of his contract, I was really hoping that ruthless rumor mill would lay dormant until July 1st. Ya know, considering that's the first day Taylor Hall is actually allowed to sign any sort of extension anyway.
I guess I'm not surprised that there are already two separate articles, published days apart, putting wildly different spins on a piece of news that is only newsworthy in that it's not actually news at all. I'm just a little disappointed that what's guaranteed to be a shameless search for internet attention throughout the summer and beyond has already gotten off to the type of hot start that will leave New Jersey Devils' fans in a constant state of the cold sweats.
With Pierre LeBrun being an exponentially more reputable source than David Pagnotta, I'm more liable to believe his report that all is currently well between Taylor Hall and Devils' management. After all, someone who was confirmed to be wrong multiple times last summer saying that a superstar who literally can't yet sign is not yet interested in signing is only helpful if what he's trying to accomplish is grabbing the eyeballs of 30 additional fan bases. Since the following isn't exactly the look of two sides that had forgone marriage counseling and are already headed to a messy divorce, I think I'm comfortable buying into the idea that they are probably still on speaking terms a month before those talks can even turn into a contract extension...
The truth of the matter is that Taylor Hall was always going to want to see what the Devils had in store for an insanely important offseason for which they are stocked with no shortage of assets before he committed himself to the organization for the foreseeable future. The only thing that's been given the chance to happen throughout said offseason is that they lucked into an insanely talented player who has the potential to eventually take the pressure off him as another dynamic puck carrier and play driver. That doesn't guarantee a damn thing in regards to a potential long-term future in New Jersey, but I hardly think the inevitable addition of Jack Hughes hurts a recruiting pitch that is still very much in its infancy.
It's obviously very possible that it's only a matter of time before Taylor Hall is traded, but the clock isn't even ticking yet. Ray Shero is just as well-aware of the need for more talent as his most impactful forward is. Both have said as much publicly while seeming nothing but understanding of one another, so can we please wait until the process of player movement begins before we start ferociously biting at the hook of every asshole fishing for online traffic with repurposed and recycled bait? Taylor Hall has been very complimentary of New Jersey and the Devils' organization. One guy with an ulterior motive shouldn't erase all that, especially when his timing couldn't make less sense.
Taylor Hall Just Needled Every Obnoxiously Insecure Hockey Fan You Know By Tweeting About His Newfound Appreciation of the NBA
There I was, idiotically thinking that I couldn't possibly love Taylor Hall anymore than I already did. So, you can imagine my surprise when he spoke straight to my athletically appreciative soul by jabbing a knife in the side of every hockey fan that thinks diminishing the efforts of all other athletes should be a requirement of enjoying the NHL and twisting...hard.
There honestly isn't one single thing that ignites the insecurities of hockey's most overly obsessive observers quite like bringing up basketball, and the (technically still) reigning NHL MVP did just that and more by unintentionally reminding the entire internet of what's been his own league's most pressing issue for multiple decades running. For that reason, I think it would be nice if Taylor Hall offered to pay the next therapy bill for the faction of close-minded fans whose world promptly collapsed upon reading a good ole' Canadian boy's gratuitous praise of professional basketball after his experience enjoying it in a non-traditional market.
Now, said issue exists, in large part, because hockey inherently isn't anywhere near as superstar-driven or individualistically encouraging as basketball. You hardly need fully functional eyesight to see the amount of extreme differences that can be easily and immediately identified between two sports that, due to a multitude of factors (some avoidable, some not), clash culturally. That's why, as can be read in the actual words that Taylor Hall oh-so-carefully chose, this wasn't some sort of attempt at an apples-to-apples comparison. Unfortunately, if you don't think it will be defensively interpreted as such then you've somehow been fortunate enough not to encounter the type of hockey fan who will stop at no amount of illogical analogizing in a nauseatingly endless effort to get you to like their sport and only their sport.
What Taylor Hall essentially implied is that, though the games themselves are a matter of preference, the NBA produces a much more intriguing show with better character development than the NHL (and all other pro leagues, for that matter). That might be a difficult thing to admit during a postseason that is unequivocally the most gripping in all of sports. However, how can you argue against something so blatantly obvious that a superstar who has dedicated his entire life and livelihood to winning the Stanley Cup felt comfortable saying so on a public platform that collectively bears its claws at contrarianism?
The NBA has plenty of its own flaws, but among them are not a lack of adaptability, a lack of marketability, a lack of publicized personalities, or a lack of entertainment value. I say the following as a loyal consumer of hockey above all else: If you perceive that undeniable fact to be a subtle dig at the NHL then me thinks that you, as an overly sensitive hockey fan with an inferiority complex, doth protest far too much.
Kaapo Kakko Has Opted Out of the NHL Scouting Combine, As Jack Hughes Inches Closer to Becoming a New Jersey Devil
First and foremost, I'm quite certain that there isn't anything that Kaapo Kakko could prove on a pull-up bar that he didn't already prove by physically overwhelming a laundry list of NHLers in helping to will his country to an international title for a third time prior to his 19th birthday...
That being said, if we're working under the somewhat uneducated assumption that he'd have to ace every single test to claim the spot atop the Devils' draft board then going full-on Ferris Bueller in playing hooky during the most notable one remaining only stands to hurt his case. Like, if Ray Shero and the gang are sitting at 51/49 in favor of Hughes as we speak then it would take something patently ridiculous like Jack skinning his knee falling off a stationary bike, suffering from vertigo during his vertical jump, or literally choking on his tongue during the interview process for him to drop to second overall.
Swinging his proverbial sword as a workout warrior might seem like a small and unnecessary feat for a man-child who spent full shifts protecting the puck like he gave birth to it during the World Championships. However, with the scale being so close to balanced, simply showing up and stepping on it could have theoretically made a difference for Kaapo Kakko. With him staying home to celebrate, it sort of feels as though not much is being left to the imagination of inquiring minds. Of course, my jaw wouldn't completely drop if the full-bodied Fin were the choice when Ray Shero takes the stage on June 21st, but my eyes would at least widen with him opting out of one last pre-draft audition. All signs were already pointing to Jack Hughes becoming a New Jersey Devil, and the absence of the near-consensus second best prospect at the combine is yet another one of them.
With an Imperfectly Impactful Performance, Jack Hughes Offered a Pretty Clear Reminder of His Limitless Potential
It would be easy to point to a 'Player of the Game' worthy performance in Team USA's most important game of the tournament, that came on the heels of an inexplicable benching against their biggest rivals, and say "I told you so" to those that can't seem to compliment Kaapo Kakko without hating on Jack Hughes. After all, in just 12+ plus minutes of ice time, he was able to cause two turnovers (he pick-pocketed Ovechkin like he was a first-time international tourist just prior to the second highlight) that created two huge goals that somehow kept competitive a game against a Russian team that's loaded with top-level NHL talent. You'd think such a showing would prove the perfect counterpoint to the Finnish manchild's eye-popping assault on every hockey twitter timeline.
The truth, however, is that what we saw out of Jack Hughes yesterday was far from perfect. There were still times where the slightest bit of contact sent him swimming. There were still instances in which he looked entirely overmatched physically, as exemplified by him being left bloody after being driven into the ice like a pick on a zone entry attempt. There were still plays where a 160-170 pound kid who turned 18 less than two weeks ago looked like...well, you might want to sit down for this...a 160-170 pound kid who turned 18 less than two weeks ago...
I say that not to discredit what was an undeniable reminder of the level of talent that's had Jack Hughes atop 2019 draft boards since 2016, but rather to point out that being underdeveloped in a way that's typical of far more than most teens isn't going to stop him from having an immediate (and increasing) impact on NHL ice. Finished product, he is oh-so-shockingly not, but try to imagine what his almost unprecedentedly slick skating, Patty Kane-esque puck skills, playmaking prowess, and innate ability to have an instantaneous impact will look like once they are attached to a man who is already capable of standing out amongst full-grown superstars, despite a limited role, as a literal boy. Honestly, it shouldn't really require 20/20 foresight.
A massive amount of awe and respect to Kaapo Kakko for flat-out bullying his way into the conversation for first overall as a biological anomaly, but the previous projection is what still has Jack Hughes listed as the #1 prospect by a vast majority of the experts that don't adjust their rankings after each and every highlight. If you even care enough to live beyond the moment then you need next to no imagination to foresee that projection coming to fruition, even though yesterday's moment was pretty damn impressive in and of itself. American bias aside, while it'll definitely take a decade+ to officially declare one close to can't-miss player better than the other, his final pre-draft audition reinforced the reason to believe that there's more of Jack Hughes' best still to come than that of the Finnish freak who is already fully grown beyond his years.
Surprising isn't the right word. After all, anyone sadistic enough to heartlessly kill their own precious time in cold blood using the unforgiving stretch run of a lost season as the murder weapon (::shamefully raises hand from the back of Assholes Anonymous::) could tell you that Nico Hischier began oozing the confidence he was forced to build up without the help of Taylor Hall for most of the season. Prime example #1 (of many)...
Instead, we'll go with reassuring, as watching him continue to develop into a dominant presence and a versatile playmaker for a country relying heavily on his production is proof that the increasingly common glimpses of brilliance we saw in New Jersey weren't just hopeful relative to the general hopelessness they occurred amongst.
Whether it be the type of saucy passing that makes you go back for seconds, a stronger desire to shoot combined with a more persistent penchant for scoring, or just his patience and creativity with the puck that is resulting in routine highlights, they are coming more and more frequently for a kid (yes, despite being half dead in comparison to Jack Hughes, he's very much still a kid) whose potential is that of a top-flight two-way center. I would have gladly let the inevitable offensive development of Nico Hischier serve as a surprise to the rest of the league but it sure seems like the Swiss' breakout star is already over being under the radar, as he hasn't been at all shy in doing something, or more accurately, everything about it.
Prospective. Not the type you might be liable to gain upon being released from the juvenile detention of a full face shield, but rather the type that you'd be liable to gain from the idea that Jack Hughes was literally too young to use the same equipment as every other one of his teammates at the World Championships as of yesterday. With Kaapo Kakko making a quality case to be selected first overall throughout a tournament during which his main competition for that spot has looked physically overwhelmed at times, that type of perspective is exactly what is needed to keep grounded arguments that have become more imprisoned by the moment than Jack Hughes' face was imprisoned by perpendicular bars.
In judging these prospects, we're talking about actual kids here. Kids whose bodies develop at their own personal rate, with that rate often getting ratcheted up well after they are drafted as teenagers. Point being, while his speed, skill, and skating might, Jack Hughes won't look anything like he does now as little as two years down the line. That doesn't mean it's going to take him anywhere near that long to contribute at the NHL level, nor does it mean that he'll ever be as imposing a presence as the prospect he'll forever be measured against by a bunch of outspoken assholes on either side of a remorseless rivalry. It does, however, mean that what you've only seen glimpses of in three games that were played prior to him having the ability to vote and after him having played a full international tournament elsewhere is hardly what you'll be getting a couple birthdays down the line.
What Jack Hughes can't be taught, but it sure as shit can be trained, so let's just light some candles, have some cake, and let the professional prognosticators do their job of analyzing hundreds of hours of game tape over a multitude of years. Seems like that might be a more rational way to go about things. Especially since the alternative is assuming they are unqualified to do so based on a handful of highlights from someone who wasn't given enough initial credit when he was forced out of both sight and mind by a record-breaking performance that proved exactly how far ahead Jack Hughes is of every other one of his teenage peers whose body isn't absurdly mature beyond its years.
Probable Rangers' Prospect Kaapo Kakko Scored a Sweet Goal in the World Championships, But Let's Not Bury the (Quite Literal) Lead Here...
That's him? That's the guy campaigning to dethrone Jack Hughes for the distinct honor of being selected first overall by the tri-state area organization that doesn't have a harrowed history of wasting top notch talent? The dude who wasn't even the highlight of his own highlight? HA!
I mean, I guess I can begrudging admit that fighting off the penalty of a solid NHL defenseman to finish on a Stanley Cup Championship-winning goaltender while balancing on one foot is a highly impressive sign of what's to come throughout Kaapo Kakko's promising professional career. However, the no-look touch pass through both legs and traffic that freed him to do so is what really made me re-adjust the glasses I don't wear. The show of strength on the puck in combination with the calmness under pressure was definitely cool and what not, but I personally think it would be flat out disrespectful to Toni Rajala not to focus on his instinctual unseen assist, and his instinctual unseen assist alone, in fully appreciating such a pretty example of playmaking...
After all, while there's no real reason to play 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' in regards to what was an undeniably awesome display of skill, what if Canada had the chance to retrospectively rethink their roster decisions? I believe they, much like myself, might conclude that future franchise goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood wouldn't have gotten beaten to that post, thus making Kaapo Kakko's contributions entirely irrelevant in the alternate universe of which I am currently choosing to live.
In all seriousness, this is going to suck. It's easy to be positive about what the upcoming draft means for the bitter future of the Devils/Rangers rivalry with its two standout studs yet to have donned combatting colors. However, those inevitably biased and bi-annual arguments are going to get really annoying really quick when they both start killing it on opposite sides of the river. I don't mean to sound so spoiled because there are far worse problems to have, but - regardless of how special a player Jack Hughes is - Kaapo Kakko is definitely going to remind Devils' fans of how lucky they are that Nolan Patrick doesn't appear to be especially special. That fact, however, won't stop me from posting things like this as a transparent way to project my frustrations with the Rangers being gifted the golden opportunity to tarnish the silver medal of an almost equally pristine prospect...
It's with the absolute upmost respect that I say the following. Fuck this kid...
Devils' Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald Waxed Poetic About Jesper Boqvist in Comparing His Speed to That of Taylor Hall
TheAthletic- “I just watched Boqvist play against the Fins (last week),” Fitzgerald said. “I went over to watch the (Kaapo) Kakko kid and both Jespers (Bratt and Boqvist) played. It was a good game to watch. (Boqvist) has made tremendous strides from where he was a year ago. Just his speed is incredible. In-flight speed, I don’t know if we have anyone in our organization faster, and that includes (Taylor Hall). He effortlessly moves around the ice. He’s made some great strides.
“He became a top player in that league as a young player. It says a lot about his ability and a lot about how, maybe, lucky we are by getting him in the second round.”
Well, alright then. I guess the tempering of expectations is not part of this summer's plan.
Personally, I think I would have to see it to believe it, but even being the most heavy-footed student in the same class of speed as Taylor Hall speaks volumes of the potential of a player whose hands are certainly capable of massaging out some of the kinks atop the Devils' lineup...
After solidifying himself as the consensus best offensive prospect in the system by proving productive beyond his years in Sweden, Jesper Boqvist was already getting his fair share of hype amongst the fanbase. Tom Fitzgerald, however, basically just fed that offseason optimism some ecstasy by mentioning his feet in the same fleet as the superstar that wheeled his way to an MVP award while carrying the whole damn franchise on his back.
Of course, being fast is becoming more and more of a requirement to succeed in a league that both figuratively and literally caught up with the Devils this past season. That said, Taylor Hall-type quickness will never not be a huge asset when attached to players with high-end puck skills. Jack Hughes has both, and - unless Tom Fitzgerald is blowing the type of smoke that makes you a...ahem...hit at parties - so does Jesper Boqvist. If training camp shakes out as many expect it to then we might get a glimpse into how bright New Jersey's future is as soon as this upcoming year, but it's starting to feel like we might have to retrain our eyes to keep up before we do.
Ty Smith is Your WHL 'Defenseman of The Year', And Your Most Recent Reason to Be Excited About the Future of the New Jersey Devils
Ironically, you'd have to be living in a world with the WiFi of a Subway car to lack familiarity with the Ty Smith hype train. His domination at the Junior level, that makes it all but a forgotten conclusion that he'll soon be making a leap to NHL level, is far from a new phenomenon. It's just the accolade that has most recently, albeit unsurprisingly, came along with it that has him both literally and figuratively at center stage of the Devils' immediate future. With Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and - to a larger extent - Jack Hughes having already taken their turn in the spotlight early in the offseason, it was about time Ty Smith got awarded the type of accomplishment that can temporarily make last year's 17th overall pick (::slowly rubs hands together so as to spitefully celebrate such a heist::) the apple of Devils' fans collective eye.
And look, the preposterous point total is enough to tighten your pants if you just spent this past season watching a Devils' blue line that was constantly in the red, but my favorite aspect of Ty Smith winning 'Defenseman of the Year' is that it's a semantically accurate achievement. The production is all well and good, but what makes the kid a stud is having an impact on both ends of the ice that can't solely be measured in stats. The proof of that can be heard in the excitement of Tom Fitzgerald's voice...
While fans get giddy over goals and assists, Assistant General Manager's go gaga over game managers whose physical and mental understanding of what's happening on the ice makes everything unquantifiably easier on their teammates. It speaks to what's been a dark, dark period for a franchise that once prided itself on being impenetrable defensively, but Ty Smith at least has the early potential to be a new age version of one the likes of which the New Jersey Devils haven't called their own since they were hoisting Stanley Cups. If you don't think that's yet another reason to be excited about the organization's future then just ogle at his PPG and clap while he takes his proverbial lap as the Devils' standout prospect of the day.
Signs Aren't Pointing in the Wrong Direction, As Taylor Hall Had a Courtside Seat Between The Sixers/Devils Owners to Game 2 in Toronto
It's a good sign. Nothing more and, assuming they didn't let Josh Harris' insanely awkward ass try to take command of the conversation, nothing less. Of course, in judging by the facial expression above, Taylor Hall's courtside experience wasn't the most socially seamless endeavor of his life. Probably had the laser focus of Kawhi Leonard in taking in the efforts of Jimmy Butler & Co, if only to avoid having to pull an entire mouthful of teeth in trying to relate to billionaires. Still, even the fact that this was arranged between the Devils' money men and the Devils' money man fairly far ahead of any potential payday is enough to bring the heart to a resting rate.
We're talking about a franchise that, as of late, doesn't have the greatest track of properly financing and/or keeping their most familiar faces. Therefore, their fanbase will gladly take every ounce of optimism that is to be provided by the inherently idiotic and unforgiving act of reading far too much into things seen on social media. I both think and hope that there are still a lot of hockey-centric discussions to be had between Taylor Hall and two people who I trust exponentially more to conduct them in John Hynes and Ray Shero. However, the currently underpaid talent being open to being in the open with two guys with which he probably shares exactly two common interests, with those being dollar signs and the New Jersey Devils, is a helluva start to a impending anxiety attack of an offseason.
"What could possibly go wrong from here?", he naively muttered while pounding on wood with the tenacity of Blake Coleman until his knuckles began to bleed.
UPDATE: Hynes alert!
Trust me, the irony of having to celebrate the accomplishments of New Jersey Devils' players, or those who are very likely to be soon, while they are performing for teams other than the New Jersey Devils despite the playoffs still being in full swing is not lost on me. Still, as far as early offseasons go, you can't ask for much better than lucking into the opportunity to select someone who broke a record last held by the best pure scorer in NHL history while the two most dynamic young players already on your roster were making an instant impact internationally.
During an otherwise depressing time of year in which a disappointed fanbase desperately needed reassurance of a brighter future, it's a wonder that every social media savvy Devils' fan hasn't had to make an optometrist appointment after being left temporarily blinded by the amount of highlights they've had flashed in front of their face over the last week. Whether it be Jack Hughes absolutely infantilizing his peers with his effortlessly amazing play, or Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt picking up right where they left in looking more dangerous and more dangerous by the day, what should be a massive summer for the upward trajectory of the franchise has already been granted an extremely promising precursor.
There's still an entire tournament to be played by all three (assuming reports of Hughes' high level of interest accurate). However, what will more than likely serve as half of the Devils' top-six hasn't appeared to waste a damn shift in continuing to realize their potential at every opportunity. Who knows? Maybe Mackenzie Blackwood (who will also be getting some shine in Slovakia) IS on to something...and if not I'll gladly accept the delightful distractions during the aftermath of a doom-and-gloom season...