The 2021 NHL Draft may feel like it’s a long way off, but everything involving Luke Hughes tends to happen in a hurry.
The Hughes family story of three hockey-playing boys has come up at the two most recent NHL drafts. Roughly 13 months ago, Quinn Hughes was selected seventh overall by the Vancouver Canucks. And, just five weeks back, Jack Hughes headlined the 2019 event, joining the New Jersey Devils via the first overall pick.
Next fall, when his older brothers figure to be kicking off their NHL rookie seasons, Luke will begin playing with the same U.S. National Team Development Program both his siblings shined for. Like Quinn, Luke is a defenceman, one who spent last season tearing up the minor midget AAA ranks with the Detroit-based Little Caesars Hockey Club.
The coach of that team was former Atlanta Thrasher and Dallas Star Patrik Stefan, a first overall pick himself in 1999. This marked the second consecutive season Stefan was behind the bench of Luke’s team and he also saw Quinn play a bunch in recent years, as the latter was close by at the U.S. NTDP, then the University of Michigan. While Jack has his own obnoxiously good thing going on at centre, it’s pretty easy to draw a line between the two blue-liners.
“They are a little bit different, but in the ways they excel it’s very similar,” Stefan says of Luke and Quinn. “The way they skate the puck up, it’s almost impossible to hit [them.]”
Eluding contact was probably most critical for Luke when he faced some fired up old teammates with the Toronto Marlboros. That’s the AAA club he used to skate for when the family was located in Toronto because the Hughes patriarch, Jim, served as director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Hughes crew moved to Michigan around the same time as the Stefans, who were coming from California. Stefan was already coaching his son, James Stefan, on the west coast and had competed against Luke in AAA tournaments involving the 2003-born kids. When Jim was looking for a place for his youngest son to play, Stefan laid out a two-year development plan with Little Caesars. It’s safe to say things worked out wonderfully for both the team and Luke, who — in 2020-21 — will join the same Michigan Wolverines club Quinn played for last season.
“Great family, great kid,” Stefan says. “From Day 1 you could see the high-end hockey sense.”
He certainly comes by it honestly. Jim was a four-year NCAA player who, in addition to his front office experience, has a long history of coaching at the American Hockey League and NHL levels. Ellen Weinberg-Hughes, meanwhile, was a multi-sport college athlete and skated for Team USA at the 1992 World Women’s Hockey Championship.
That means awesome, icy bloodlines is just one of the things Luke and James Stefan have in common. This past season, Luke registered an incredible 83 points in 71 contests from the back end, while James — who is also on the 2021 radar and will start his Western Hockey League career with the Portland Winterhawks in September — paced Little Caesars with 95 points in 71 games as a centre. The two have become good buddies through time spent at the rink, family homes and attending college football games. James raves about all aspects of Luke’s game, but with this young man, the conversation always comes back to those feet.
“His stride is the same as Quinn’s,” James says. “It’s so weird, but it picks up so much speed. It’s crazy. You see him at the goal line [and] he’ll be at the next goal line in no time. The creative part of his game is off the charts. He makes moves that not a lot of players can do.”
It just so happens that a couple who can are from Luke’s family. And before you know it, they’ll all be doing their thing at the highest level.