When USA Hockey’s new U18 coach Dan Muse introduced himself with a phone call to top-rated 2021 NHL draft prospect Luke Hughes ahead of the opening of training camp in Plymouth on Monday, the former Nashville Predators’ assistant coach had a quick greeting for the youngest of the three hockey-playing brothers.
“The first thing I said to him was I can’t tell you how excited I am coaching one of you guys instead of coaching against,” Muse said on a Zoom conference call on Friday to introduce him and former Red Wings assistant coach Adam Nightingale of Cheboygan as the head coaches with the National Team Development Program.
“Going back to my days in the USHL (United States Hockey League) and in the NHL, they’re a special family in terms of having three brothers doing what they’re doing on the ice at the NHL level and here. Right now, I’ve been able to watch some games on tape and evaluate all of the (NTDP) players individually.”
Muse coached against Jack and Quinn Hughes for two years in the USHL, including the 2017 season when he led the Chicago Steel to the Clark Cup title in 2017 and this past season when Jack, 19, recorded 21 points in his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils and Calder Trophy candidate Quinn, 20, had 53 points in the regular season and 11 more points in the playoffs with the Vancouver Canucks.
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Luke, 16, is among the best defensemen for the 2021 NHL draft which features seven defensemen in the top 15 players, according to TSN draft analyst Craig Button, an Ann Arbor native and regular guest on The Detroit News’ NHL Draft TV preview shows.
At 6-1 and 175 pounds, Hughes had 28 points in 48 games with the U17 team last year and four points in six games with the silver-medal winning USA team at the U17 World Hockey Challenge in Medicine Hat, Alberta and Swift Current, Saskatchewan.
The Canton resident, who is committed to the University of Michigan for the 2021-22 season, is expected to be joined in the first round of next year’s draft by two other NTDP defensemen Aidan Hreschuk and Sean Behrens. Hreschuk (Boston College) had 24 points in 49 games and Behrens (University of Denver) had 37 points in 45 games.
In Nashville, Muse watched and learned from four of the best defensemen in the NHL with 2020 Norris Trophy candidate Roman Josi, 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban as well as shutdown defender Mattias Ekholm and high-scoring Ryan Ellis.
“Those defensemen were all different,” Muse said. “You’re not doing the exact same thing with everybody. I’ll definitely take some of the lessons I learned from the last three years combined with the things I’ve learned with players at this age group in the past and apply specific plans to maximize their potential as they’re going into their draft year.”
NTDP senior director of operations Scott Monaghan said they were fortunate in the last month to have “really qualified candidates come in fast” when U18 coach Seth Appert took the job with the Buffalo Sabres’ AHL affiliate in Rochester and U17 coach John Wroblewski left for the Ontario Reign, the top farm team of the Los Angeles Kings.
“We weren’t sure what to expect with the job openings at this time of the year,” Monaghan said. “These guys did a tremendous job and were highly recommended from outside. We moved really quickly and are happy to have them on board.”
While the NTDP schedule hasn’t been finalized against USHL and college teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the USHL is scheduled to begin on Nov. 6.
“I’m looking forward to working with these guys and diving into their personal games in these next three-to-five weeks,” said Muse, who was also an assistant coach on the NCAA championship Yale team in 2013. “All of these players are extremely talented in their own ways. We’ll identify those strengths and develop their overall game.”