Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of the top hockey prospects for the NHL Draft on July 23-24, 2021.
Three years ago at the 2018 NHL draft, the Detroit Red Wings under general manager Ken Holland passed on University of Michigan-bound defenseman Quinn Hughes with the sixth overall pick.
Holland selected Halifax Mooseheads winger Filip Zadina, who played 80 games in the minors with the Grand Rapids Griffins before recording 32 points in 70 NHL games heading into Tuesday’s game against the Nashville Predators at Little Caesars Arena.
Hughes, who developed for two years with the National Team Development program in Plymouth before playing two years of NCAA hockey in Ann Arbor, has turned into one of the NHL’s best young players and most marketable stars with 84 points in 110 regular-season games and 16 points in 17 playoff games with the Vancouver Canucks.
Now there’s another Hughes playing nearby with USA Hockey’s top development team, he’s also projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2021 draft and he could present a similar option for new Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman.
Luke Hughes, who was scheduled to play in Wednesday’s BioSteel All-American Game at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth but is out with a lower-body injury, is moving up the draft rankings and wouldn’t mind joining the Red Wings’ organization.
“To be drafted by Detroit would be awesome,” the 17-year-old Hughes said. “Detroit’s my home. I’ve lived here since I was in ninth grade and I’m going to go to the University of Michigan next year. I can’t control that but it would be great to be picked here. At the same time, there’s 32 great (NHL) spots.”
Yzerman and director of amateur scouting Kris Draper will have other options in a defenseman-dominated NHL Draft on July 23-24, including University of Michigan’s 6-6 Owen Power, Sweden’s 6-4 Simon Edvinsson and Barrie’s 6-1 Brandt Clarke.
(Detroit has the fourth-worst record this year in a season when the new NHL Draft lottery rules won’t allow the two-worst teams to drop more than two positions).
At 6-2 and 183 pounds (Hughes says he put on 18 pounds since last year under the guidance of USA Hockey’s director of sports science Brian Galivan), the Canton native has put himself in the conversation of being the Red Wings’ No. 1 pick with six goals and 28 assists for 34 points in 38 games with the NTDP U18 team this year.
“It’s not my place to tell an NHL team where to take somebody,” said NTDP coach Dan Muse, who will also coach the United States team at the U18 world championships in Frisco and Plano, Texas from April 26-May 6.
“I expect him to go high in the draft and I say this not just because of what he’s done on the ice but also from seeing what he does on a daily basis off the ice in regards to his preparation, his professionalism, the passion in his game and the desire to improve. He’s going to keep getting better and his best hockey is still ahead of him. Whoever takes him is going to be very happy with him.”
Muse says “the first thing you notice about him (Hughes) is how good he is on his edges” and how his skating ability allows him to “take away time and space, closing off plays and transitioning the puck the other way.”
By being in better position while reading the play, Hughes has only 12 minor penalties in two years with USA Hockey. In comparison, underrated Norris Trophy candidate Jacob Slavin of the Carolina Hurricanes has only six penalties in two years and seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom averaged only 12 penalties per year during a 1,564-game career with the four-time Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.
“Personally, I just try and stay as disciplined as possible,” said Hughes, whose brother Jack Quinn has no penalties with 17 points in 36 games with the New Jersey Devils this year. “That’s a big part of my game, the way I angle people at the blueline and squeeze them off. It’s hard to score goals when you’re on the kill and taking penalties.”
Hughes says his older brothers are “role models,” they text or FaceTime each other most days and they’ve taught him “during a really long draft year especially during COVID to stay level-headed and don’t worry about things you can’t control.”
His dad, Jim Hughes, was an assistant coach with the Boston Bruins from 2001-2003 and the director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2009-2015. His mom, Ellen Weinberg-Hughes, was a defenseman who won a silver medal with the U.S. national women’s team at the 1992 world championships in Finland.
In five games at the worlds including a 17-0 win over Switzerland, she had four assists and was named to the media U.S. All-Star team with Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato, who is now a pro scout with the expansion Seattle Kraken.
“I mean, wow, I didn’t really know all those stats,” Hughes said. “They’re my biggest support system. They’ve been here for me, sacrificing for me and my brothers our entire lives.”
Hughes also credits Muse for developing his “leadership skills” on a “tight-knit team,” which could have the majority of players taken in the 2021 Draft. Thirteen NTDP players were selected in the 2020 draft after a record-breaking 17 players were selected in 2019, including his brother Jack as the No. 1 pick overall.
“We’ve had a lot of really good people from the program who have shown me the way and to be respectful,” said Hughes, who worked out in the summer with NTDP grads like Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings and Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We have a really talented group with guys like Chaz Lucius, Dylan Duke, Sasha Pastujov, Sean Behrens. We’ve got so many guys that can go pretty high in the draft. That’s one of the goals on our team, for every player to get drafted.