Quinn Hughes Image by: Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images
The University of Michigan defenseman has played with top competition all his life and those experiences have helped his development as a puck-moving demon
A common refrain among NHL scouts is that if you have talent, they’ll find you. For defenseman Quinn Hughes, that has never been a problem: he has always played for the best programs around. The 2018 draft prospect and University of Michigan blueliner already brings a wealth of experience, including his current roster spot on Team USA at the World Championship, where he is the only teenager on the squad.
Hughes was born in Orlando, where his dad Jim was an assistant coach with the IHL’s Solar Bears. Two years later, the clan moved to Boston when Jim got another coaching job with the Bruins. When Quinn was seven, the family moved to Toronto as Jim joined the AHL’s Marlies and that’s where the youngster spent the formative years of his hockey training.
Soon, Hughes began playing for the vaunted Toronto Marlboros program, one of the best minor hockey outfits in the world: Connor McDavid, John Tavares and Rick Nash are just a couple of the top names who have worn the team’s jersey. Hughes’ cohort was pretty impressive too, and he ended up winning the minor midget OHL Cup on a team that also featured Ryan McLeod (2018), Matthew Strome (PHI), Mackenzie Entwistle (ARI) and Ben Jones (VGK).
“We were on the same team for six years – it’s kinda crazy, to be honest,” Hughes said. “We had such a good team. We all competed hard in practice and I think that’s what brought us up.”
Living in Toronto was also a unique experience for the American kid, who appreciated the hockey-friendly environment, even though he was always cheering for the red, white and blue.
“It had its benefits and its downfalls – like when everyone is rooting for Canada,” he said. “I was all for the U.S. I got a lot of heat for that when it was world junior time or the Olympics, but I stuck to my roots. The hockey there was second-to-none. Toronto is such as a hockey city, so that definitely helped.”
In the summers, Hughes and his family (which also includes mom Ellen and younger brothers Jack and Luke) would go to a summer house in New Hampshire, where the kids could rip around on the jet ski, or go tubing. It was also a way to keep in touch with their American heritage. That was a good thing for Jack, who would soon move back to the States as a member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Michigan, where he would also attend high school.
“When I moved to The Program, it was my first time learning about American history,” he said. “I told me teacher that for the first few weeks, I might not know what I’m doing.”
That in itself was a pretty amusing cultural shift.
“There wasn’t too many wars for Canada, which is pretty good, I guess,” he said. “No offense, but Canadian history is a little more boring because the U.S. was always finding themselves in the middle of something.”
As with the Marlboros, Hughes found himself amongst elite company at the NTDP. Brady Tkachuk was his best teammate in terms of NHL upside, but the two-year program itself was huge for the youngster’s development.
“Nothing is given to you,” Hughes said. “You really need to work hard. There are so many lessons in your U17 year, which is a tough year, to your U18 year and having a great season. Just staying with it, because there are lots of ups and downs.”
Because of his October birthday, Hughes was finished with the NTDP before he was draft eligible (Sept. 15 is the cut-off). That means he spent this past season as a freshman at the University of Michigan, which had a great campaign under first-year coach Mel Pearson, who took over for the legendary Red Berenson.
“I was really comfortable with their coaching staff,” Hughes said. “I really liked the way they played and Michigan was the first school to recruit me, so I looked at them seriously the most. It would have been nice to have a year or two with Red, but talking with Mel and the new staff, I’m really confident in their abilities. Mel is a good person and a good coach.”
A big fan of Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang, Hughes has many of the same traits as the Penguins stalwart. His work with the puck is incredible for such a young player and once he gets stronger, his shot will be more of a threat, too. As it is, Hughes put up 29 points in 37 games for the Wolverines; an impressive haul for a frosh. NHL teams paid close attention to his season (which included bronze at the world juniors with Team USA) and he definitely has high-end elements that are not easy to find.
“He’s a dynamic player,” said one NHL executive. “You gotta use him in the right situation and put him with a guy that plays defense, but I’d pay to watch him play and there aren’t many players I’d say that about. He makes plays when there’s nothing there. It’s his ability to go one way when you expected him to go the other way that opens things up. His upside is incredible.”
This summer in Dallas, Hughes will be a high selection - possibly top-five, definitely top-10. He would benefit from another season at Michigan, but after that the NHL will beckon. From the Marlboros to the NTDP to Michigan, he has proven he can rise to the top.