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  • Is Jack Hughes A Cautionary Tale For John Hynes?

    Image courtesy of Brace Hemmelgam-USA Today Sports
    Tony Abbott

    Jack Hughes is one of the best players in the world. That has been the case for about the past three years, where he's scored 76 goals and 181 points in his past 142 games. His 1.27 points per game is tied with Auston Matthews for fifth in the NHL, and he only trails Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nikita Kucherov, and Nathan MacKinnon in that time.

    However, we're not talking about Hughes for any other reason than that he was not one of the best players in the world when he played for John Hynes. Obviously, that's not very encouraging for Minnesota Wild fans because the Wild hired Hynes as head coach this week.

    The Wild are starting to undertake a sizable youth movement, but no one in their system is as talented as Hughes. However, Hughes struggled to put up points in his first two seasons with the Devils. It has to be concerning to Minnesota fans that Hughes' ascent to superstardom coincided with Hynes' departure.

    While the Wild have a lot of investment in veteran players, their upside is almost entirely in the hands of their young players. And not just emerging NHLers like Matt Boldy, Marco Rossi, and Brock Faber. Hynes will almost certainly mold players like Marat Khusnutdinov, Carson Lambos, Liam Öhgren, Danila Yurov, and Riley Heidt in the NHL. If Hynes couldn't get the most out of a player as brilliant as Hughes, what chance do the rest of these players have?

    You can probably fairly say that Hughes struggled under Hynes... for 24 games. That's it. Hynes was only behind the bench for 24 games of Hughes' rookie season. Maybe it's not exactly a feather in his cap for Hynes to have lost his gig in the process. Still, we're not talking about a scenario where Hughes immediately flourished once Hynes departed.

    Hughes was relatively productive under Hynes, at least compared to what came after. The No. 1 overall pick had four goals and 11 points in 24 games under Hynes. We're not talking about blowing the doors off or anything, but that's a literal teenager going from the U.S. National Development Program to the NHL and immediately going on pace for a 35-plus point season.

    But Hughes' production under Hynes greatly out-shone what he did under interim coach Alain Nasreddine for the rest of the season. In Hughes' final 37 games, he scored only three goals and 10 points. That includes finishing the year with one point (an assist) in his final 14 games. Hughes' adjustment got worse, not better.

    That's the opposite of how Hughes was trending under Hynes. Hughes started the season with zero points through his first six games. After recording his first point in Game 7 and first goal in Game 8, Hynes discussed the challenges Hughes faced leaping to the NHL. "As much as Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk jumped right from [the USHL], there was another year of experience before they came into the NHL and Jack is learning it. But I will give him a lot of credit, he is getting better."

    Hughes was. Those two games started a four-goal, nine-point-in-eight-game stretch that gave Devils fans a preview of the Hughes to come. Hughes cooled off again leading up to Hynes' dismissal, but the proof of concept was there.

    Not only was Hughes unproductive under Nasreddine, but what he accomplished the following season under new coach Lindy Ruff wasn't even a massive leap over what Hughes was doing under Hynes. In Hughes' sophomore season, he put up 11 goals and 31 points in a 56-game, COVID-shortened season. It was a bump, for sure. And again, Hughes was still a teenager. But he went from going from a 37-point pace (over 82 games) in his time under Hynes to a 45-point pace under Ruff. 

    It wasn't until Hughes' second season with Ruff that he had his breakout campaign with 26 goals and 56 assists in 49 games. Unless we want to claim that Hynes so thoroughly ruined Hughes' development that it took two years to recover, we can't indict Hynes for not getting the most out of the future superstar.

    That's not to say there aren't concerns about how Hynes has handled young players. You can point out that 2017 No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier didn't reach his final form until after his two full seasons under Hynes. The same applies to Jesper Bratt, who has become a star winger. Hynes couldn't get much out of first-rounder Eeli Tolvanen, who the Nashville Predators waived last season and has 15 points in 23 games this year. But if you're basing your concerns around Hughes' failure to launch under Hynes, that's one worry you can put to bed.

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    Tolvanen is the only one of those that seems mildly worrisome. Very few players come to the NHL as prepared as Kaprizov. Some teenagers not turning into immediate stars in the NHL doesn't seem overly concerning to me.

    I don't exactly know why Tolvanen was waived by the Nashville GM, but he has been productive in Seattle ever since they claimed him off waivers. Not a star, but certainly productive.

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