He’s going to his first all-star game before completing a full season in the NHL. He’s in talks for winning the Calder Trophy this year.
And he likely has the most unique nickname in all of professional sports: “Huggy Bear.”
Hughes said a lot of the credit for the name goes to his teammate, Brandon Sutter.
“He kind of drove that nickname,” Hughes said Saturday during After Hours on Hockey Night in Canada. “He made everyone call me that, so it is what it is.”
While sometimes “Hughesy” is thrown around, it seems most of the Canucks prefer the nickname “Huggy Bear.”
“As soon as we drafted him, I thought ‘Hughesy,’ ‘Huggy Bear,'” Sutter said. “He came in one day, like the third day he was here, and he had a T-shirt on it that had a tiny little bear on it. It was perfect. ‘Huggy Bear’ was perfect.”
“I think I’ve kind of gotten used to it now, but it’s pretty funny,” Hughes said. “I didn’t help myself with the T-shirt last year but I definitely haven’t worn it since.”
Since making his NHL debut on March 28, 2019, Hughes has been everything and more for Vancouver.
The 20-year-old was the youngest Canucks defenceman to score a goal for the team since J.J. Daigneault. He’s the first NHL rookie defenceman to record multiple three power-play assist games in a season.
Hughes is also the sixth fastest defenceman in to reach 30 assists in 49 games or less in NHL history.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 12, 2020
“I’m a confident kid, so I thought I’d do well, but you never know how things are going to go,” Hughes said. “I’m very fortunate to have played with very good players, and I think we got a very good team so that definitely helps as well.”
“We still have 30 games to go, and I need a strong finish here.”
Standing at 5-foot-10, Hughes is certainly not the biggest guy on the ice. But his ability to use his skill and smarts to defend sets him apart and makes a big impact in each game.
“I definitely learned at a young age when I was smaller that I couldn’t use my brawn and I had to use my brain instead,” he said. “I feel like I’ve gotten better defensively throughout the year and I’m sure I’ll just keep going.”
Earlier this month, the Canucks defenceman was selected for the all-star game as the winner of the Last Man In vote. While he admits he didn’t vote for himself, he knows his mom certainly did.
“She was pretty fired up,” he said. “If my mom could do a hundred (votes per day), I think she would. That’s just her, she loves her kids.”
“I’m definitely pretty thankful. It just shows you the hockey market that Vancouver has.”
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 11, 2020
The Hughes family has been referred to as America’s first family of hockey. Hughes’ mother, Ellen Weinberg-Hughes, was a three-sport athlete, playing lacrosse, soccer and hockey at the University of New Hampshire. She also was a member of the United States women’s national hockey team.
“She was huge with helping us when we were growing up, she’s just so supportive,” Hughes said about his mom. “A lot of times, my dad was on the road, so she would be the one driving us to practice and taking us to games and stuff like that. Very fortunate to have her and her support.”
Hughes’ father, Jim Hughes, played with Providence College and was previously an assistant coach for the Boston Bruins and Toronto Marlies. He then became the director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Living in Toronto for 11 years, the Hughes brothers often found themselves playing a game of shinny on outdoor rinks across the city.
“I think the outdoor rinks really grow your passion for the game. There’s like a thousand in Toronto and I’ve probably been to all of them,” he said. “I was definitely fortunate to grow up there. It was just fun.”
Hughes also admitted to After Hours being a Leafs fan while he was growing up.
“Being in Toronto, it’s hard to not get caught up in the excitement there. It wasn’t a great time to be a Leafs fan, but I always loved going to the games and there were still some fun players to watch.”
No American family has ever had three players taken in the first round of the NHL draft. But with Hughes selected seventh overall in the 2018 draft and his brother Jack Hughes being the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Hughes family could make history.
Currently, the youngest Hughes brother Luke is playing with the United States national development program. Luke also matched Quinn’s under-17 points total – but in 22 fewer games than his older brother.
“I think he’s just getting some good bounces,” Hughes joked. “Luke is a really good player. He’s probably further along than I was at the same age. I’m really excited for him. I think he’s going to be a really high pick next year.”
“It’s your dream as a kid to play in the NHL and do it with your brothers… Now that me and Jack are here, and Luke’s doing good, it’s pretty exciting and cool.”