Jack Hughes, Connor McDavid face off as Devils host Oilers

NHL Hockey

No one in the NHL has been as singularly dominant in 2021 as Connor McDavid, who is on the verge of completing the most impressive calendar year by a player this century.

On Friday afternoon, the New Jersey Devils would be content to get another glimpse at what could be in store in 2022 for Jack Hughes.

Two of the NHL’s most exciting young stars are slated to face off in a New Year’s Eve matinee Friday, when Hughes and the Devils are scheduled to host McDavid and the Oilers in Newark, N.J.

Both teams were off Thursday after resuming their seasons with road games Wednesday, when the Oilers fell to the St. Louis Blues, 4-2, and the Devils edged the Buffalo Sabres, 4-3.

The game was the first since Dec. 18 for the Oilers, who had seven players in COVID-19 protocol when the NHL paused their season. Edmonton had four players — right winger Zack Kassian, defenseman William Lagesson, defenseman Darnell Nurse and right winger Jesse Puljujarvi — in protocol Wednesday.

McDavid collected the assist on Evan Bouchard’s game-tying goal in the second period for the Oilers, who fell behind 2-0 fewer than seven minutes into the game. But the score was knotted for just 3:57 before Vladimir Tarasenko put the Blues ahead for good with 4:14 left in the second.

“We made a couple mistakes early, got behind early and chased the game,” said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett, who missed Edmonton’s previous three games while in protocol. “We were around a little bit but turned over a lot of pucks and wound up chasing.”

The rest of the league is chasing McDavid, who won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player after leading the league in assists (72) and points (105) during the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, which began Jan. 13. He picked up where he left off upon the start of the 2021-22 season and ended play Wednesday once again leading the league in assists (33) and points (50).

Counting the playoffs — the Oilers fell in the first round last spring to the Winnipeg Jets — McDavid has 159 points (51 goals, 108 assists) in 90 games in 2021. That’s the most points by a player in a calendar year since Jaromir Jagr finished with 164 points (68 goals, 96 assists) in 93 games in 1999.

This year hasn’t been as fruitful for Hughes, who was picked first overall by the Devils in 2019, four years after the Oilers selected McDavid with the No. 1 pick. The 20-year-old had 31 points in 56 games last season and suffered a dislocated shoulder against the Seattle Kraken in the second game of this season on Oct. 19.

Hughes missed 17 games and struggled upon returning Nov. 30. He had just five points — three goals and two assists — in 11 games prior to Wednesday, when he posted a goal and two assists in his first three-point game since he had a goal and a pair of assists against the Sabres on April 8.

“You need your best players to make a difference for you, and Jack made a difference for us,” Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said. “Coming back from a real tough injury, I think it takes a little bit of time to get back in rhythm. But I thought he did a lot of great things.”

–Field Level Media

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