Like Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur, Jack Hughes Needs Time

Jack Hughes needs time to develop; New Jersey's Kyle Palmieri on the go?; Time to worry in Tampa?


Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils; listen up; this one is for you!

A case could be made for Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau as "Greatest of the Modern Centers," if not of all time.

Do you know any others -- apart from Henri (11 Cups) Richard -- who've won ten?

Beliveau was succeeded on the constant Cup-winning Habs by Guy Lafleur, another Hall of Famer, right up there in the Big Jean realm.

I bring up those superstars because they had something very much in common with the Devils sophomore center. They were victims of a build-up-to-a-letdown.

The late Claude Larochelle, who covered Beliveau as a Junior with Quebec Citadelles, a Senior with the Quebec Aces and later with the Habs, remembered the pressure put on the man they called Le Gros Bill.

"Beliveau was expected to be a superstar the minute he put on a Montreal jersey," my buddy Larochelle told me. "But for two years, he was considered a failure with the Habs. And he already was in his 20's."

Ditto for Lafleur.

Jack Hughes is just 19 and the sky's the limit for the kid from Orlando, Florida. Repeat, he's still only 19!

That, however, should not stop Devils-watchers from expecting more. After all, Jumpin' Jack was the National Hockey League's number one overall pick in the 2020 Entry Draft.

"Hughes disappointed (as a rookie) with just seven goals in 61 games," noted New Jersey sports columnist Steve Politi. "But given that he's not going to be twenty until May, the club isn't panicking."

Nor should g.m. Tom Fitzgerald and his general staff. Hughes is a prize bit of work in progress and everybody should have known that from the get-go.

"It took three years for the Canadiens staff to figure out how to get Beliveau going," Larochelle remembered. "By the third year, they brought in a new coach, Toe Blake, and he pressed the right buttons."

The Devils reliable beat writer, Chris Ryan of NJ Advance Media, is bullish about The Kid's progress. Despite New Jersey's 5-4 loss to division-leading Washington on Sunday, Ryan called it "The best game of Hughes' young career."

Jack got an assist and was a constant threat.

Ryan: "Hughes was relentless with the puck from start to finish. He racked up 10 shot attempts, eight scoring chances and five high-danger scoring chances with the latter two marking career highs."

My infallible Devils-watcher, George Falkowski, has been keeping his Argus eyes on Jackie Sophomore since Day One of Hughes' career. In a nutshell, the George Report tells me that Jack's day will come.

"You can see him growing by the game," Falkowski reports. "His shots that now are going off the goal post will start going in as he matures physically.

“A few times his offensive talents and hockey smarts take his linemates by surprise." 

Based on The Hockey News "Future Watch," two top prospects could wind up being Hughes' wingers. 

Stockholm-born Alexander Holtz is a right wing with quick hands and quick feet. He's a true sniper who gets to scoring areas effortlessly.

Dawson Mercer is another right wing with good hockey sense in all three zones. He's a tireless worker.

Falkowski: "Wayne Gretzky had his Jari Kurri and Bryan Trottier had his Mike Bossy. Maybe Holtz or Mercer will turn out to be the best wings for Hughes."

It's worth noting that Hughes was the first player in history to move directly from the U.S. Development Program (USNTPD) to the NHL. That was quite a jump and eyed by USNTPD co-head coach Seth Appert

The feeling was -- and is --  that the physical adjustment was Hughes' major challenge. By comparison, Beliveau was much bigger in every way than Hughes and much heavier. Yet, Big Jean struggled at first.

"The adjustment for Jack can only have a positive effect on his long-term career," coach Appert explained. "Jack is one of the most competitive young men I have ever encountered. 

"The adversity he's encountered will further motivate him. No question but attackers with Hughes' skills don't run in the streets. Jack likes to 'make' games." 

Patience is the order of the day -- if not season -- when it comes to Fitzgerald & Company working with their young virtuoso. And that's how it should be.

"I believe that Jack will start getting league-wide promotion very soon," my Garden State bird dog Falkowski predicts. 

Or as they said about Beliveau and Lafleur, "Genius will out!"

Only in Montreal, they said it in French!


THE JIVE: Rare is the time when a top player is scrapped from the lineup and everyone -- including his agent -- candidly acknowledges that he'l be traded. That's the deal with New Jersey's Kyle Palmieri who led the Devils with 45 points last season and remains a solid right wing. Your guess is as good as mine in terms of who snatches this native of Smithtown, Long Island. Writing in The Hockey News, columnist Matt Larkin says the most likely suitors -- in this order are -- Boston, Colorado, Edmonton, Islanders and Pittsburgh. Also-rans are Florida, St.Louis and Toronto. And now that the Sabres held Taylor Hall out of last night's game against the Devils, the excitement is reaching fever pitch.


THE JIVE: Prior to last night's game in Columbus, the defending champion Lightning have not looked like titlists lately. Their record over the last ten games has been a noticeably tepid 6-4 and what might be a Bolts weak underbelly has been tested. My man in Cigarville USA, Larry Hirsch, says not to worry. "Tampa keeps bringing in youngsters to break into the team," Hirsch insists. "Victor Hedman -- if he stays healthy -- is at the top of his game and Mikhail Sergachev is a rising star. Plus Andrei Vasilevsky is simply the best goalie in the NHL. Finally, Jon Cooper is an amazing coach." Coach Cooper had better awaken his sleeping champs. They lost again last night 4-2 to the Blue Jackets.


THE JIVE: I just wonder what the top Vegas oddsmaker has to say about the playoff slugfest in the West. You tell me; between the Coyotes, Sharks, Blues and Kings, who'll make the post-season cut? Winners of four straight, San Jose is very much alive. Ditto for the Coyotes, winners of three in a row. Meanwhile, the Kings are not that far behind and you have to figure that St.Louis -- losers of an unlucky seven consecutives -- will soon stop the bleeding. (Personally, I'll put my two pennies on San Jose. But not one cent more!)


THE JIVE: I accept all challengers including this one from reader Barry Wisener who rips my idea of having a line around the rink ten feet from the boards to protect from illegal head-first whacks into the boards. "This is not a good idea," writes, Wisener. "The boards are very forgiving and flexible now in all rinks. Light checking, angling and pinning as well as finishing the check still should be allowed. If checking along the boards were eliminated, the thirst for checking in open ice would take on a life of its own and would be far more dangerous." (P.S. Opinions are always welcome.)


THE JIVE: When a coach leads his college team to four consecutive WCHA regular season titles and the school's first ever Frozen Four appearance, they deserve recognition. Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings was awarded with the Spencer Penrose Award, given to Division I Men's Hockey's coach of the year. This season, Minnesota State is 22-4-1 overall including a 13-1-0 record in conference play. His squad faces St. Cloud State in the Frozen Four on Thursday. 


DISAGREEMENT: The intrepid analyst Gus Vic firmly disagrees with my pick of Cale Makar as the best of the NHL's sophomore defensemen. "It's Adam Fox," argues Vic. "Period!" The streaking Fox scored again, while adding two assists last night in the Rangers 8-4 rout of Pittsburgh.

HOLLAND AND EDMONTON: Oilers g.m. Ken Holland: "I want us to go as far as we can in the playoffs and hope for The Stanley Cup." (A long shot but with McDavid, Inc. anything is possible.)

GRANATO GREAT: Don Granato is gaining points in terms of Sabres next hire as head coach. He's turned Buffalo around even without Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall. The 5-3 win over New Jersey last night is adding to his excellent resume.

BILL ZITO REGRETS: My man in Sunrise notes that the Panthers rookie g.m did not make the deal that sent Vincent Trocheck to Carolina. Florida got what amounts to nothing in return. Meanwhile Vinnie The Victor has 15 goals; and five have been against the Cats in five games. Trocheck's Raleigh Redoubtables beat the Panthers 5-2 last night.

EAGER ELLIOTTE REPORTS: Nobody beats Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman when it comes to "inside" info. E.F. is noting that Sabres Kevyn Adams is conferring with captain Jack Eichel on possible trades. Plus, Elliotte hints that the Avalanche may want Kye Palmieri. 

YAY TO AN ISLANDER: Ever solid Josh Bailey recorded his 500th point last night helping set up Brock Nelson's winner in the 1-0 decision over Washington. Josh does his solid work with little fuss and fanfare; plus lots of class.

BYE-BYE TUUKKA? The Bruins are preparing a goaltending changing of the guard. The new recruit, Jeremy Swayman -- out of Anchorage, Alaska -- made 40 saves in Boston's 4-2 win over Philly. Figure Tuukka Rask on his way out of Beantown.

NO CURBING KIRBY'S ENTHUSIASM: The Blackhawks ace rookie, Kirby Dach is a reason to like Chicago's playoff chances. The kid from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta scored his first NHL goal in a big Windy City 4-2 win over Dallas.


Name the three hockey players who also were among Canada's greatest lacrosse players.

(Answer below).

FUNNY LINES FROM YESTERYEAR: "They think they're hockey goalies!" 

-Patrick Roy on why his kids are not scared by bad guys in hockey movies.


Jack Bionda of the Bruins, John Ferguson of the Canadiens and Tom Mcvie who was all over the place, including behind the bench.