Michigan commit Luke Hughes ready to follow brothers, make NHL Entry Draft history

Detroit News

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series, as The Detroit News breaks down the NHL Entry Draft by positions heading into the July 23-24 event. Today: Defensemen.

Detroit — History is about to be made next week in the NHL Entry Draft, thanks to the Hughes brothers.

Quinn (No. 7 overall by Vancouver in 2018) and Jack (No. 1 overall by New Jersey in 2019) Hughes were both first-round picks in recent seasons, but no American-born family has had three brothers go in the first round.

Luke Hughes will change that on July 23, likely being selected within the first few picks and becoming the third member from Hughes clan to be drafted on the first day.

The defenseman, who is committed to Michigan (Quinn played one season at Michigan;  Jack committed but went straight to the pros), has received ample feedback from his brothers on what to expect graduating to the NHL.

“They kind of taught me going into the year that you got to be ready for everything,” Luke Hughes said during a recent media teleconference with top prospects. “You’ve got to stay level-minded and you can’t get too high or low all through the year. And that really applies to me this year with all the COVID implications and getting shut down and quarantined at numerous times throughout the year. So, that was one big piece of advice they gave me.

“You can ask them anything. I’ve watched most of my brothers’ games, every time they’re playing and I’m not. We talk a lot, talk about plays and little areas of what you can do and can’t do. That’s huge for me and that’s a really good tool I use a lot.”

At 6-foot-2 and 184 pounds, Luke is taller than his brothers, and has room to become much more bulky and stronger physically than his siblings.

But like his brothers, Luke is an elite skater, and that mobility with the puck and his ability to recognize plays makes him an intriguing prospect. There’s also a sense that his best hockey is ahead of him.

“To me, the runway (for Luke) is there and the upside is almost limitless,” David Gregory, NHL Central Scouting senior manager, said. “When you put together the whole package of his size, skill and IQ, there’s potential that he’ll be the best of the Hughes brothers.

“But he could be the best of this draft, too. He has that kind of ability and upside.”

The Red Wings passed on Quinn (they took Filip Zadina at No. 6) and never had an opportunity at Jack, having dropped in the draft lottery.

They may not have a chance at Luke, either. The Devils pick fourth, two spots ahead of the Wings, and likely wouldn’t pass on the chance to pair the two Hughes brothers together.

The Devils need a young defenseman of his quality in the organization.

“It would be unbelievable to go to the Devils,” said Luke, who happens to be fourth in NHL Central Scouting’s rankings of North American skaters. “My brother clearly wants me to be there. That’d be super cool to play with him, and I’d love that. But at the same time, there’s 32 great teams out there and I’d be happy to go to any one of those teams.”

There’s a likelihood that wherever Hughes is drafted, he’ll go play at Michigan, at least for one year, for development and maturing purposes.

Given the returning talent at Michigan, including fellow high first-round picks Owen Power, Matt Beniers and Kent Johnson, Hughes is excited about playing in Ann Arbor.

“You guys know we’re going to be a really good team next year and hopefully we can go pretty far and try to win it all,” Hughes said. “I’m super excited for my time, and watching my brother Quinn go through it and how much he grew up as a player, as a person, I’m really excited for that.”

Hughes is among a draft class of defensemen who may not have the pure star power of some recent drafts, but one that most scouts believe will have an impact eventually.

Power is the likely No. 1 overall pick going to Buffalo. He projects to be an all-around defenseman who will anchor a team’s defense for a decade.

Hughes, Brandt Clarke, Simon Edvinsson, Corson Ceulemans, Daniil Chayka and Carson Lambos are other defensemen who could go somewhere in the first round.

Here is a sampling of those defensemen in this class:

Power: He dominated as a freshman at Michigan and was impressive for gold medal-winning Team Canada at the recent men’s world championship. Power may not be a generational talent, but he’s going to be real good for someone (likely Buffalo) for quite a long time.

Clarke: He went to Slovakia to play games and was exceptional. His skating ability and offensive ability make him the type of electric defenseman general managers are craving. Some mock drafts have Clarke going second behind Power in this draft.

Edvinsson: Because of his size (6-5, 207) and skating ability, Edvinsson gets compared to Tampa’s Victor Hedman and that’s likely unfair. But Edvinsson has improved his stock over the course of the year and could be a Wings target if he falls to six.

Ceulemans: A defenseman whose stock has risen in some circles, Ceulemans has all the physical attributes but his decision-making and defensive deficiencies probably make him someone who falls outside of the top 10.

Chayka: At 6-3 and 185 pounds, there’s room to grow for Chayka, who didn’t have an exceptional season playing in Russia this past winter. But if nothing else, he projects to be a tough-minded, defensive defenseman and should be there if the Wings are interested at No. 22 overall.

Lambos: He went to Finland this season to play, but his season was cut short by injuries. Scouts love the physical aspect Lambos brings to the ice and he’s a talented skater, though his defensive game right now is ahead of his offense. You do wonder if Lambos could slip to the Wings at No. 22.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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