Newark, N.J. — Watching Saturday’s game against New Jersey is surely going to reopen some old wounds for Red Wings fans.
There was a large segment of Wings’ fans wanting the team to completely tank to have the best odds possible to draft Jack Hughes, who starred for the Plymouth Township-based U.S. National Team Development Program.
The Devils ultimately won the lottery and the opportunity to pick first overall, selecting Hughes.
Thus far, Hughes has been progressing steadily, with 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) entering Saturday’s game.
“He’s going to be a great hockey player because he loves to compete, he loves hockey and he believes in himself and he wants to be a great hockey player,” said coach Jeff Blashill, who coached Jack Hughes and older brother Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks defenseman) at last spring’s men’s world championships. “He’s going to get there. He has the skill set to be that, no doubt about it. He’s already a good hockey player in this league.
“He has a great coach in John Hynes who is going to help him get better in the things he needs to get better at, but he has a great inner drive and competitiveness to be a great player.”
Dylan Larkin has played with both brothers at the world championships — Larkin roomed with Quinn in 2018 — and is impressed with the Hughes family.
“Great family,” Larkin said. “I know his mom and dad are passionate about hockey. They’re a big hockey family. I’ve got nothing but the best things to say about the family and both of the guys. They work extremely hard and love the game.”
Larkin is impressed with Jack Hughes’ passion for the game and his playmaking ability.
“The way he can skate and make plays, you see good players and they’re always around the puck and the puck follows him, and when he has it he’s confident with it,” Larkin said. “He plays the game at his pace and that’s how good players play. The puck just seems to follow him around and when he has it, he is getting people out of their seats.”
Some fans are getting antsy because Hughes only has one point (an assist) in the last seven games.
But Blashill cautions the NHL is not an easy place for an 18-year-old player.
“It’s a hard league to learn in and young players that come in like him have to learn in the league and it’s real difficult for anybody,” Blashill said. “There are some guys that are considered great players in this league that are still learning how to be winning hockey players, guys that have been in this league for four or five years.
“It takes a while. It’s a process, and everybody has to have patience.”
The Red Wings got defenseman Patrik Nemeth back in the lineup Saturday after Nemeth missed the last five games with a leg infection.
Nemeth blocked a shot, was bruised, and an infection developed. He was originally expected to miss as much as three weeks, but progressed rapidly.
“He’s a great defender, a great penalty killer,” Blashill said. “He’s been one of our top defenders. DK (Danny DeKeyser) has been out a lot this year, so he’s been one of our top defenders.
“He knows exactly what he is, and he’s good at it, so we certainly missed him out of the lineup.”
Blashill had nothing but good things to say about Trenton native, Devils defenseman Andy Greene, whom Blashill coached at Miami (Ohio).
Greene, 37, is the Devils’ captain and has forged an underrated great career, now in his 14th year.
“His competitiveness was so good every day in practice (at Miami) and he was such a great leader, he was selfless, and I know he is still that,” Blashill said. “He’s not flashy, he’s not super big, not super fast — doesn’t have much hair anymore — but he’s still a very good player.
“There’s no question he goes under the radar. He’s been an underrated player in this league for a long time. You win with guys like him who win their shifts, win individual battles and create more chances than they give up.”
The Wings got Nemeth back, but defenseman Mike Green was unavailable, and Darren Helm was a game-time decision.
Adam Erne was hit on his hand with a shot during a power-play drill, and Erne’s availability wasn’t certain.
Blashill also said forward Taro Hirose would return to the lineup, after being a healthy scratch Thursday.
Hurricanes at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7 p.m., Sunday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Hurricanes (13-8-1) have carried last season’s outstanding playoff run into this season…Carolina has a deep, balanced offensive attack led by RW Andrei Svechnikov (10 goals, 24 points) and RW Sebastian Aho (11 goals). Former Red Wing G Petr Mrazek (10-4-1, 2.68 GAA .902 SVS) has solidified the goaltending.