TORONTO — Just days in advance of the NHL’s All-Star Weekend, it was officially announced that Jack Hughes would be attending but not participating as he continues to recover from an undisclosed upper-body injury.
The Devils star center, however, is anticipating a return to the lineup soon.
“I think I’m really close,” Hughes said after the player draft concluded Thursday night. “Hopefully, I can come out of the break here and feel good and can finish off the year really strong.”
Hughes was sidelined for the Devils’ 10 games before the All-Star break.
The Devils — sitting in third to last in the Metropolitan Division — went 3-6-1 without Hughes, which ignited backlash toward the possibility of the 22-year-old making his highly-anticipated return to the ice for the NHL’s event.
“Obviously, a bummer, but no one’s fault,” he said of not participating in the skills competition or game. “Tough timing. Just the way she went. Still fortunate to be here with Quinn [Hughes] and stuff, but of course I’d like to be playing.”
Still, Hughes participated as a team captain of the player draft with his brother and Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes.
Team Hughes selected the Canucks’ Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov, the Jets’ Kyle Connor, the Senators’ Brady Tkachuk, the Devils’ Jesper Bratt, the Kings’ Cam Talbot and the Ducks’ Frank Vatrano.
Hughes is ranked second on the Devils in points with 15 goals and 30 assists in 32 games.
The only player he trails is Bratt, who has collected 19 goals and 31 assists through 47 games and replaced Hughes in the All-Star activities.
“Even the last three years, last year he had a great year, the year before that he burst through the door,” Hughes said of Bratt. “It’s kind of three years of him playing at this level and for him to get that recognition, it’s a big deal. I’m really happy for him and it’s really well deserved.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman revealed that Salt Lake City has been the most aggressive among the cities lobbying for a franchise.
“They’re very enthused about the possibility of getting an NHL team,” he said. “They’ve made it clear they’d like one. The governmental leaders in Utah have expressed to us a similar level of enthusiasm.”
Bettman said the NHL has also talked to people in Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Kansas City.
“There seems to be an increasing and vibrant expression of interest in having an NHL team in places where there aren’t,” Bettman noted. After noting that he finds Mullett Arena to be “unacceptable” and players deserve to play in an “NHL rink,” Walsh appears to be supportive of relocating the franchise if there is still uncertainty surrounding the Coyotes and their quest to find a home site after this season.
NHLPA Executive Director Marty Walsh expressed extreme concern and disappointment regarding the Arizona Coyotes’ arena situation, noting that the Meruelo ownership group has refused to engage with the union.