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The Devils’ 2019 first-overall draft pick, Jack Hughes, takes a shot at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Describe the pressure of being the first overall pick of the 2019 NHL draft.
A: There’s no pressure. You come into an organization, and you’re expected to change the organization and turn them into a winning team, so I can’t say it’s a pressure on one guy alone. Obviously you want to go in and play great, and there’s expectations, but at the end of the day, I’m a pretty lucky guy that I get to play in the NHL at 19 years old. It’s a pretty good job getting to play hockey.
Q: So you don’t feel pressure?
A: No, it’s a team sport. Obviously, like I said, there’s expectations, and I’m probably the guy that is most competitive with myself and wants to push up the mountain.
Q: You were quoted last year: “I’m not a great player in this league yet … not even close.” Do you have a timetable for when you think you can be great?
A: I’m getting there. My game’s continuing to get better each game. I just gotta keep working, keep playing. I know one of these days, sooner or later, I’m gonna be a star in the league, and we’re gonna be a great team in the NHL.
Q: What drives you?
A: A bunch of things. First thing, I want to be great. I want my parents to enjoy watching me play. I want my cousins, my friends, my family to appreciate all the love I put into it. I want my team to be great, and, on a personal note, I want to be one of the top players in the league soon.
Q: How realistic of a goal is it for you to teach your goal of being great?
A: The Devils drafted me where they drafted me expecting me to be that guy. They brought me in here to be the guy that can help change the culture and change the organization, and I expect that out of myself. I think this year has been a good step for me to get to that point so far.
Q: What would you say makes you unique as a hockey player?
A: I can’t say I’m the ideal height or weight … a skilled, smart, exciting player to watch, you know? Nothing crazy, I try to play an exciting game and a skillful game, so that’s really it.
Q: What disappointed you most about your rookie season?
A: Just a frustrating year in terms of the team not doing great — personally I didn’t have a good year. At the end of the day, I look at it now and I was an 18-year-old kid and I got to play in the NHL. Not many people get to do that, and I learned a lot from last year. That’s gonna help me throughout my whole career and help me get up the mountain. … That’s obviously a setback, but I’m here now, and I’m ready to become a star in the league.
Q: Where is your confidence level now, compared to where it was a year ago?
A: I’d say my confidence hasn’t wavered, I think especially this year. I think my teammates believe in me, my coaching staff believes in me and I gotta get the job done to help us win games. I just feel good with my game right now, and the goal is to help our team win.
Q: Was the low point last year when you were benched against the Predators?
A: No, I don’t even remember that game. I don’t know if you can pinpoint a low point in the season. I think overall it was just a gradual, frustrating time with the team losing, myself more playing to the standards I wanted to play. It’s in the past now.
Q: Where have you made the biggest strides from a year ago?
A: I got bigger and got stronger. My shot got better. I just had 62 games to know the league better, kind of find little things that I can adjust my game that’ll help me get in better situations, better opportunities.
Q: How much weight did you gain from last year?
A: Probably 12 [pounds].
Q: Do you have a rivalry with Kaapo Kakko, the second-overall pick last season by the Rangers?
A: Not really. I think we’re gonna be linked together through our whole careers, obviously, through the media, but the way I see it is I’m focused on myself, I’m sure he’s focused on his own game. I’m not really too worried about that. It’s early in the season, and it’s not so much about me or Kakko. I’m sure it’s the same for him, it’s Devils versus Rangers.
Q: Describe your on-ice mentality.
A: I guess you put aside the one part of your life, and then you almost say an alter-ego picks up. A whole different mindset in terms of: Be at your best every night and grind and work. It’s something only athletes can understand at times, you know? Being ready to go every other night for a game and appreciating the grind and enjoying it? That’s a totally different thing than I guess the [junk] away from the rink, but that’s what you gotta do.
Q: What has been your problem with running out of gas?
A: (Chuckle) In my car?
Q: Yeah, I don’t mean on the ice, I mean off the ice.
A: (Chuckle) I don’t know, I’ve only done that once or twice. I grew out of that.
Q: How did you allow yourself to run out of gas?
A: I don’t know, just driving it into the dirt, I guess (chuckle).
Q: We’re you near a gas station?
A: I was on the way to the rink.
Q: So how did you get to the rink?
A: I had to get someone to bring gas to me, and then I had to fill my car up and get myself to the rink.
Q: Who brought the gas to you?
A: One of my teammates.
Q: If you could pick the brain of any center in NHL history, who would it be?
A: Obviously, Wayne Gretzky would be a pretty fun guy to talk to, just to listen to some of his experiences and his mind.
Q: Which goaltender would you want to test your skills against?
A: [Mackenzie] Blackwood, our goalie in New Jersey. He’s a good buddy of mine, so I’d want bragging rights.
Q: Who are athletes in other sports you like to watch?
A: LeBron [James], he’s probably my favorite athlete. I like Ja Morant and I like Kyler Murray.
Q: Boyhood idol?
A: Patrick Kane. Just his skill, his flash, his celebration. He was in a lot of big games growing up and was always the best player, so it was a lot of fun watching him growing up.
Q: How good of a baseball player were you?
A: It was fun, I wouldn’t say I was great at it.
Q: What position did you play?
A: Center field.
Q: Right-handed batter?
Q: Lefty batter, right-handed thrower?
Q: Did you have any favorite baseball players growing up?
A: Not really, but I was a big Yankee fan growing up and still am, and now that I’m in the metropolitan area it’s been fun. I got to go to Yankee Stadium a few times and watch some games.
Q: Any favorite Yankees players?
A: I think [Derek] Jeter was the best, obviously. I liked Didi Gregorius though when he was there, but now he’s out of the picture.
Q: When you met Adam Sandler at Yankee Stadium, did he crack any jokes?
A: (Chuckle) Yeah, I mean, he’s just a funny dude. The way he is is the exact same he was in the movies. It’s fun to be able to talk to him for a couple of minutes. What are the odds you run into a guy like that?
Q: What did Reggie Jackson have to say to you when you met him?
A: I think my dad was more excited about that. He grew up in Long Island, he was all over that Reggie Jackson Era, and that was a super special night sitting in the president’s box and then Reggie Jackson being there.
Q: Did you tell Reggie you used to play the outfield?
A: (Chuckle) Yeah I did.
Q: What was the most memorable thing he told you?
A: He just told me to enjoy it, enjoy the game, love the game and appreciate it. It’s a blessing that we get to play sports for a living.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Margot Robbie, LeBron James, Matthew McConaughey.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Good Will Hunting.”
Q: Favorite meal?
Q: Whatever comes to mind: P.K. Subban?
A: Funny and energetic.
Q: Kyle Palmieri?
Q: Coach Lindy Ruff?
Q: What do you like best about this Devils team?
A: We’re young, we’re funny and we have a good team, and we enjoy each other’s company, and it’s a lot of fun going to the rink.
Q: What is your message to Devils fans?
A: I really hope you guys can come back to the stands soon and watch us play. It’s a lot of fun playing in front of you guys.
Q: What’s it like being Jack Hughes?
A: It’s great. It’s a great life to play hockey for a living.
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