VANCOUVER – His brother will probably get more attention, but then he always has. Still, Quinn Hughes isn’t sneaking up on anybody in the National Hockey League.
He doesn’t want to, either.
“I don’t want to tiptoe,” Hughes said Saturday after the start of the Vancouver Canucks’ weekend camp for rookies and prospects. “I want to try to help the team here and make an impact. We’ll see if I’m able to do that, but that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
The 19-year-old has already impacted the franchise.
Following in the slipstream of hope generated by last season’s rookie-of-the-year, Canucks centre Elias Pettersson, the dynamic defenceman is further energizing a fan base that hasn’t been this excited about an unproven team since Pavel Bure followed Trevor Linden to Vancouver a generation ago.
In a five-game NHL cameo last spring, straight out of the University of Michigan, Hughes showed the wonderful mobility and creativity that made him an apparent steal as the seventh-overall pick in the 2018 entry draft.
Against big, physical Western Conference teams, Hughes flourished as a five-foot-10 teenager, gathering three assists and driving possession, albeit in protected minutes. The overtime shift in his Canucks debut against the Los Angeles Kings on March 28 – Hughes skated with Pettersson and Brock Boeser at three-on-three – was probably the best 45 seconds of Vancouver’s season.
One year after Hughes’ draft, younger brother Jack was chosen first overall by the New Jersey Devils in June. All that is expected of Quinn Hughes in Vancouver is everything.
Brothers have never been co-finalists for the Calder Trophy.
“It’s a special award,” Quinn said. “If I’m in that conversation, that would be great. We want to have the best year we can. Whatever that is, we don’t really know.”
Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes (43) and Los Angeles Kings’ Carl Grundstrom, back, of Sweden, collide during the first period of an NHL hockey game. (Darryl Dyck/CP)
The Hughes boys – 15-year-old Luke has joined the U.S. National Team Development Program – trained together in Michigan this summer under the guidance of their dad, Jim, a player-development coach who spent nearly 10 years working for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Jack obviously wants to have a great year in New Jersey so he was pushing pretty hard, and my little brother Luke was doing the same thing,” Quinn said. “We were working hard, but lots of fun as well.
“It’s pretty easy to get up and work out when you’re preparing to play in the best league in the world. We definitely pushed each other probably a little bit more than in past summers. Not that we didn’t (before), but the NHL is here. You’re getting ready to go.
“For me, I was just trying to get overall better at everything I do. On the ice, I think I got five per cent better this summer and I feel really good coming into camp.”
Hughes is with his age group this weekend, but will still be a focal point when the Canucks open their main training camp Friday in Victoria. He is a lock to make the NHL team and may skate on a second pairing with veteran Chris Tanev.
As we’ve said before, the Canucks have literally never had a defence prospect like Hughes. They’ve had some really good defencemen, but hadn’t drafted any with the pedigree, skillset and dynamic abilities that Hughes possesses.
He may struggle, as Pettersson did towards the end of last season, with the daunting physical demands of an 82-game NHL schedule. And like his teammate, Hughes will have to prove he can succeed while being game-planned by the opposition.
As he said Saturday: “There’s going to be tough nights, for sure. It’s 82 games; practically impossible to play good every night.”
But in those five nights he played last spring, Hughes was probably the Canucks best defenceman. Those five games provided some clarity going into the summer. Hughes didn’t need to train for his rookie season wondering if he can play in the NHL. Knowing he’s good enough, he trained to be a better NHL player — Hughes doesn’t turn 20 until Oct. 14.
“It’s just nice to… gauge yourself a bit and just kind of know you can play there, and not go through the summer wondering what it’s going to be like,” he explained. “For me, that helped a lot.
“(But) I can’t settle for that; it was only five games. I want to have a long career. I did everything I could this summer to try to prepare myself to have the best season I can have.”
He said he has been preparing for it his whole life.