For three-plus years, as Jack Hughes was learning to be an NHL professional through his late teens, he’s been chasing the hype that has come with his unworldly physical talents.
That hype that has drawn comparisons to Patrick Kane, the Rangers’ rent-a-star acquired at the trade deadline this season in the hope of propelling them to a first Stanley Cup since 1994.
Kane made his mark in the league as a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks, scoring 52 goals and amassing 132 points in 136 playoff games entering Tuesday night’s playoff opener between the Rangers and Devils at the Prudential Center.
On Tuesday night, however, in the first playoff game of Hughes’ career, there was no comparison between him and Kane as the Devils’ 21-year-old star, who scored 43 goals and had 99 points this season, was neutralized by the Rangers in a 5-1 rout of New Jersey.
Until he scored on a penalty shot with 2:46 remaining in the game, Hughes was rendered a non-factor.
The Rangers were physical with him, knocking him around a bit early and it seemed to push him off his game, which is speed, speed, and more speed with his uncanny skating ability.
Before the game, Hughes spoke of his admiration for Kane, saying, “I feel like I’ve talked about this 1,000 times since I’ve been in the NHL.”
“As an American, everyone looks up to Patty Kane. I don’t want to pump him up too much before the series, but I have a lot of respect for him and he knows that.
All the guys around my age, we have a lot of respect for him. Everyone knows he’s probably the GOAT American player.
“It’s pretty cool playing against him over the last few years and pretty good watching him when I was growing up.”
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Kane praised Hughes before they were to meet in the postseason for the first time.
“I think he does some things better than I did at that age,” Kane said. “I think he’s a better overall skater.
Probably a little bit more dynamic with his skating ability. Yeah, you can see the similarities.”
Physically, Hughes is similar to Kane, with his 5-foot-11, 175-pound build and Kane’s 5-10, 177-pound frame.
Both are American and both former No. 1 overall picks (Kane in 2007, Hughes in 2019).
When Brendan Smith, the Devils defensemen who played for the Rangers 2017-21, was asked on Tuesday what the trick to defending Hughes is, he said, “Yeah, good luck. That’s a hard one. I’ve been trying to do it in practice. Jack skates better than 99 percent of the people in the league. He’s so shifty, he’s hard to pick up. He’s got a little bit of that Patrick Kane where you can kind of get lost and then come in with full speed.”
On this night, the Rangers did a big-time job of not allowing Hughes to reach full speed.
Devils coach Lindy Ruff acknowledged before Tuesday’s game that the defending of Hughes will ratchet up considerably in the playoffs.
“He’ll get a heightened awareness, for sure,” Ruff said.
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