When the Canucks nabbed Quinn Hughes seventh overall in the 2018 NHL Draft it was a bit of a surprise to most onlookers. With the likes of Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard projected by many to be the second and third defencemen taken behind Rasmus Dahlin, Vancouver didn’t hesitate to jump on the player it thought would become the better NHLer.
After the pick, Canucks GM Jim Benning explained his excitement by citing the dynamism in Hughes’ game and how well it would complement the rest of their collection of high-end prospects. Hughes himself said he believed he could step in and help the Canucks “right now.”
So when the decision was made to return to the University of Michigan for his sophomore season, no one expected he would be staying for his full term of eligibility. And you can tell by his dominance at that level, with 20 points in 17 games that ranks second among all NCAA defencemen, that he is ready to take another step.
Currently at Team USA’s world junior selection camp ahead of the big international tournament this month, Hughes appeared on the FAN 650’s Starting Lineup in Vancouver and was asked if he would consider signing a contract with the NHL club once his college season came to a close.
“I don’t want to say anything right now, but I think the plan is definitely to sign,” he said, shying away from any firm commitment. “I’m really confident in my abilities. This year has been really good for me to get stronger, play another season in college.
“I think after this year I’ll be ready and obviously my main goal is to play in the NHL as soon as possible.”
And the scary thing for other teams is that this 19-year-old just keeps getting better. He’s already just nine points away from equalling his total from all of last season in less than half as many games played and he figures to play an even bigger role on this year’s American WJC team than he did last year when he posted three points in seven games.
He also already represented the United States at the world championship last spring, getting exposure against some of the best pro players in the world. He went into the summer committed to getting faster and improving what’s already one of his best attributes, taking inspiration from an NHLer he’ll soon see regularly in the Pacific Division for years to come.
“I think (Connor) McDavid said last summer or maybe the summer before that he’s always trying to improve his skating and I agree with him, you can always get better at something. Even maybe your best traits,” Hughes said. “So if it’s getting my legs stronger or working on technique, which I did this summer, you can always get better at something.”
Given this year’s WJC is in Victoria and Vancouver, the focus on this American defenceman will be even greater than it would be in most other Canadian markets.
Adding another wrinkle to this tournament is a second American player with the same last name as Quinn who Canucks fans will be interested to follow. Although Vancouver has won three games in a row, they’ve lost 13 of their past 18 and have tumbled down the standings since leading the division in early November.
Sitting 22nd in the league, the Canucks may again be in the running at the next draft lottery for the first-overall selection, which will be used by someone to take the elite talent of Jack Hughes.
“Hopefully it’s not a once in a lifetime experience, but it’s going to be the first time we get to play together so I’m really excited, I think my parents are just as excited,” Quinn said. “It’s not just going to be great playing with him because he’s my brother, but whenever you get to play with a highly skilled player like he is it’s fun.”
One year after losing the Sedin twins to retirement, can you imagine the Canucks heading into the 2019-20 season with a new set of dynamic brothers? A lot has to happen before that becomes a reality, but at the very least, it doesn’t seem like it will be long before Quinn Hughes is turning heads with the Canucks.