The Michigan hockey team’s Jersey ties run deep.
This past season, New Jersey Devils prospects Luke Hughes and Ethan Edwards each saw breakout freshman campaigns with the Wolverines. With the season upcoming, both seem poised to build off their debuts towards successful sophomore seasons.
But the Devils’ influence on Michigan’s roster doesn’t stop with them — it’s only getting stronger.
In the 2022 NHL Draft, New Jersey selected incoming freshman defenseman Seamus Casey from the US National Team Development Program. Casey will join Hughes and Edwards as the Devils’ third presumptive dressed player on a Michigan roster loaded with NHL-caliber talent.
New Jersey certainly has its eyes on Ann Arbor as three key prospects develop together at Yost. But for right now, Michigan hockey comes first.
“The focus is always going to be Michigan,” Casey told The Daily in August. “Whether we’re with the same organization or not, we’re gonna develop that chemistry and that bond together.”
And it’s a bond that will be battle-tested.
Together, Hughes, Edwards and Casey have the added responsibilities of balancing their professional and college aspirations, while simultaneously maintaining their relationships with each other. With the Devils’ draft strategy, they will inevitably have more hockey experiences with one another in the future.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Their added connection outside of Ann Arbor has the potential to strengthen their bonds both on and off the ice. All three have the right mentality. All three understand their combined growth potential. And all three recognize that they have an opportunity to elevate Michigan hockey.
“The tighter the team is, the more chemistry you’re gonna have on the ice,” Hughes said. “And the more (chemistry) you (have) you block a shot for this guy. You know, do something to help your teammates and help the team win.”
The camps they’ve trained in together outside of Ann Arbor have already benefited their on-ice product for the upcoming season. In July, while Hughes prepared for the World Junior Championships, Edwards and Casey became formally acquainted on the ice at New Jersey’s Summer Development Camp.
“Getting to go to camp with (Casey) was the first time I really got to watch him play in a more competitive environment,” Edwards said. “It was really good and he did unreal at that camp. He’s … a tremendously skilled player, it’ll be fun to watch throughout the year.”
With a shared future creating a united background, Hughes, Edwards and Casey have a unique opportunity to enter this season as a stronger, more cohesive unit. By playing and connecting with one another outside of Michigan, they’ve solidified their strengths while finding opportunities to grow — growth that’s important for the Devils, too.
“You’re playing with highly drafted players every day and I think that can only help a kid in his development,” Eric Weinrich, New Jersey’s player development coach, said. “So it gives a lot of benefits for a kid to play at a school like Michigan. It’s just a win-win for us, and it’s a win-win for the kids.”
Michigan’s upcoming season is undoubtedly the priority for the trio, but they are keenly aware of their professional career trajectory.
It’s rare for an NCAA hockey program to have three NHL draft picks playing at one time. To have three with the same professional organization — that’s unheralded.
While the trio will be laser focused on meshing with the entire roster, their roots together are inevitably deeper than with some of their teammates — both on the ice, and off. After the Devils drafted Casey in July, both Edwards and Hughes — whom the Devils drafted in the 2020 and 2021 NHL Draft, respectively — quickly reached out to congratulate him.
“(It’s) awesome that we got a little bit of a group going,” Casey said. “So yeah, they thought it was funny and kind of coincidental (that we all went to the same team), but I just got a lot of congrats from them.”
The Devils see the advantages of compiling talent from within the same program. Although New Jersey’s imprint may be a coincidence turned pattern, the benefits that arise from having junior organizational players build chemistry before stepping out onto the ice at the professional level are undeniable.
From establishing relationships off of the ice on a college campus, to benefitting from the synergizing systemic hockey growth of the same playbooks, coaching style and goals, the potential for skill development is immense.
And although the Michigan team as a whole will grow together both on and off the ice, Casey, Hughes and Edwards have additional connections that bond them — and that help one another take their game to the next level.
Because at the end of the day, these bonds developed through the Devils organization still need to galvanize into success at Michigan. As much as they are Devils prospects within the Michigan program, they’re also Wolverines within New Jersey’s organization.
The Devils understand that as much as their prospects do.
“We make it clear right from the beginning of the season with the (junior players’) coaches that we’re not the coaches of the players that are in our organization,” Weinrich said. “And we will leave the coaching up to, you know, the respective teams that the kids are playing for.”
Together, the trio have some of the strongest hockey support systems available to them — both organizational and personal.
“Obviously me and Luke, we’re good friends, … we’re with each other 24/7,” Edwards said. “… Seamus coming in this year, it’s (gonna be) the same thing. We’re a very close-knit team, all around and even though he’s in a different class, we still have that New Jersey connection with him.”
Evidently, the strongest shoulders to lean on are each others’. The trio’s shared future forges an unbreakable bond.
A bond they hope will bring greatness to Michigan.