Very few players that I have talked about have a background story that is as interesting as Quinton “Quinn” Hughes’ is. For one, like current NHL defensemen Shane Gostisbehere and Jakob Chychrun, Hughes is one of just a small handful of players that were born in The Sunshine State. Second, while Hughes has chosen to play for the US National Team, he spent much of his childhood living in Toronto. Hughes comes from a family of hockey players, and the family has had very close ties to the NHL for over a decade now. His father, Jim Hughes, has had an extensive career in hockey, playing college hockey for Providence College, and has been an assistant coach for the Boston Bruins, and, most recently, Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His younger brother, Jack, is a front-runner for first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and has just shattered Phil Kessel’s U17 P/GP record in the USNTDP system. Having watched him at the U18s this April, Jack Hughes is going to be a player that should be unanimous top 3 if he isn’t already the consensus 1st overall pick. His youngest brother, Luke, seems to be following just fine in his older brothers’ footsteps if the very limited tape that I can find on him currently is any indication, and he should expect to be drafted in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Hockey is in the Hughes family’s blood, and it should come as no surprise that Quinn should be expected to be taken in the top 10 on June 22nd.
Hughes first came onto my radar during the 2016-2017 season, as I was preparing a list of players from this draft to keep tabs on. I had initially heard about both him and Jack prior to sitting down and watching him, and had already come into my viewings with very high expectations, as Quinn had a fantastic Draft -1 season in both the USHL and the USDP, scoring 14 goals and 65 assists over a 91 game span in the US system. In the USHL, he became the first defenseman to average a point per game in the league’s history. I finally got my chance to view Hughes at the U18s, where I was immediately drawn to his slick skating abilities and his vision. Hughes would end up having a strong U18s, scoring 1 goal and 4 assists over the course of 7 games, helping the US take gold at the tournament. In his draft season, Hughes played 37 games for the Michigan Wolverines, and finished the season with great distinction, scoring 5 goals and 24 assists, and making it to the Big 10 All-Rookie Team, the Big 10 Second All-Star Team, and helped the Wolverines make a Frozen Four appearance. To put this in perspective, Hughes was 4th in points among U20 defensemen in the NCAA, and was 3rd in P/GP, outperforming the likes of 2017 4th overall pick Cale Makar and even 2016 1st round pick Dante Fabbro, and his freshman season was among the best seen since Zach Werenski. Internationally, Hughes was also a steady presence on the USA’s U20 team at the World Juniors back in January, where he helped the Americans win their third consecutive medal and their second bronze medal in three years, registering 3 assists over the course of 7 games. What is perhaps the most exciting development, however, is that Hughes has been named to Team USA’s roster for the upcoming IIHF World Championships, where he will have the opportunity to play under coach Blashill and with Dylan Larkin. For these reasons, it is now very likely that Quinn Hughes ends up wearing the Winged Wheel on June 22nd, as a mock draft on WIIM also predicted. So, what kind of player is Hughes, you ask?
Name: Quinton “Quinn” Hughes
Date of Birth: October 14, 1999
Birthplace: Orlando, FL, USA
Current Team: Michigan Wolverines
Weight: 174 lbs
Player Comparison: Ryan Ellis
ISS Hockey: 7th
Future Considerations: 6th
McKeen’s Hockey: 4th
NHL Central Scouting Services (North American Skaters): 6th
While not a large player by any stretch of the imagination, Hughes more than makes up for it with his almost unrivaled skating abilities. Hughes is a very elusive skater that has agility that allows him to escape from pressure and open up the ice for himself. Hughes has an incredibly explosive first step, allowing him to get to top speed in a few short strides. His agility in all four directions is smooth as glass, and his edgework is among the best in the entire draft class. Overall, you’re going to be hard pressed to come across a prospect in this draft class that outskate Hughes. His footspeed allows him to take risks in the offensive zone, and allows him to pinch and carry the puck in deep, while being fast enough that he’s able to rush back into defensive position should the possession of the puck be surrendered to an opponent. Most importantly, his footspeed is so good that he can keep up with anyone on the ice, including other smaller, shiftier players. Hughes is brilliant on rushes, able to open up the ice with his explosive skating, and can handle the puck with the deftest of touch even at high speeds. Hughes’ ability to control the puck and distribute it to his teammates makes him a natural quarterback on the back end. While Hughes is not as much of a goalscorer as, let’s say Even Bouchard, or Adam Boqvist, Hughes’ vision is exceptional, and combined with his ability to maneuver around in the offensive zone, he can open up the ice in the offensive zone enough that it can create holes within the opponents’ defensive zone coverage, and can create lanes to pass or shoot the puck. Hughes has an excellent arsenal of passing abilities. The pass comes clean and hard off of his stick, and he is very good at making both slap passes or saucer passes cross-ice. Hughes can also make plays off of his backhand look easy, and is good at receiving the puck and getting it to settle on his stick even while in full flight. While definitely more of a playmaker than a goalscorer, Hughes also has a heavy shot with a quick release that can often catch goaltenders off guard.
Defensively, Hughes has a lot going for him, but there are some elements of his game that could improve. In terms of strengths, Hughes has sound positioning, and is good in one-on-one situations. Further, his footspeed allows him to rush back into position to intercept plays that a slower defenseman wouldn’t be able to. Hughes keeps a very active stick, and is always looking to pick puck-carriers’ pockets, and he can transition from defense to offense at the drop of a hat. In that respect, Cam Robinson of Dobber Prospects has described Hughes as a one man breakout machine, which is a fairly apt description of him. With the puck on his stick in the defensive zone, Hughes displays an astounding calmness with the puck. Even when being pursued and harassed by forecheckers, Hughes can maintain control of the puck, and shows quick decision making with the puck after slipping forecheckers that is often the difference between being hemmed in the defensive zone and starting the transition to offense. In terms of weaknesses, however, it starts and ends with his size and strength. Hughes will stand his ground in the defensive zone, but it is not uncommon to see him lose territory to bigger players within the slot around the net, or see him get outmuscled by bigger opponents. This will obviously improve as Hughes gets bigger and stronger, but it might be a good idea to pair Hughes with a defender that can do more of the heavy lifting. Further, Hughes can sometimes make risky moves within the defensive zone that can result in turnovers. As he develops, Hughes will need to work on playing more conservatively in the defensive zone, and learning to consistently make the high percentage plays that will guarantee the breakout is successful. However, this is a very coachable issue, and I expect he will also improve in that aspect of his game.
Overall, Hughes plays a high-octane, fast paced, and highly creative game. His abilities with the puck can be downright game-breaking, and more and more, defensemen of his size are finding a niche within the NHL. A talent of his calibre will be hard to pass up in June, and I don't envy the Red Wings brass having to make the difficult decision of who they finally pick.
Video Credits: All video credits go to bigwhite06 - YouTube
While picking sixth overall is not going to land the Red Wings a Rasmus Dahlin or an Andrei Svechnikov, the Red Wings have a golden opportunity this June to grab a defensive prospect with legitimate top pair potential. While I am the first to admit that I lean more towards the Wings taking Evan Bouchard at sixth overall, Hughes’ track record this season has been nothing but spectacular, and he should be one of the top considerations for the Wings. Hughes would bring an element of speed on the back end that is nothing like what the Red Wings currently have in their pipeline, and the Red Wings would see immediate dividends from the mobility and ability to create offense that this slick, puck-moving defenseman brings to the table. For Wings fans, the upcoming World Championships should be something that you keep your eyes glued on. That little defenseman you will see playing with Larkin could very well end up being his newest teammate, and if the Wings are extremely lucky next year, his brother Jack could join him.