It remains unclear whether Vancouver Canucks prospect Quinn Hughes will choose to turn pro or return to the University of Michigan for a second season, but Michigan bench boss Mel Pearson thinks another year of school would benefit the seventh-overall selection from June’s draft.
Hughes is lauded for his skating ability but standing five-foot-10 and weighing less than 180 pounds usually isn’t conducive to a teenage defenceman thriving against everyday NHLers.
“I just want to make sure he’s physically mature to handle the 82-game schedule and the grind of the NHL,” Pearson told Sportsnet 650’s Starting Lineup Wednesday.
Pearson pointed to two of his former pupils, top-10 NHL picks Zach Werenski and Jack Johnson, as examples of players that benefitted from a second year of college hockey.
“I would say Quinn could use a year [to physically mature],” Pearson said. “But having said that, he’s so elusive, he’s so smart, he seems to never put himself in a bad position to get hit. And the way the NHL’s going—I don’t want to say there’s less hitting—it seems like it’s a skating/skill game, until maybe when you get to the playoffs where it seems like it’s a different type game.”
Hughes is currently in Toronto for some off-season training, skating alongside Connor McDavid among others at a Power Edge Pro camp, so in theory Hughes’ already-elite skating ability is about to improve even more as the 2018-19 campaign approaches.
Former NHL blueliner Brian Campbell, a player known for his smooth skating, recently compared Hughes to Scott Niedermayer.
“He’d be one of the best skaters in the NHL if you put him into a lineup right now, not just in Vancouver,” Campbell said. “He could keep up to a McDavid.”
Pearson said Hughes is “without question” the best skater he’s coached at the college level throughout his 30-plus years behind a bench.
“In my conversations with Quinn and his family and [Vancouver GM] Jim Benning—I’ve talked to Jim also, obviously—and our position is we’ll support Quinn no matter what he decides to do,” Pearson said. “If he thinks he’s ready and Vancouver thinks it’s the right time for Quinn to turn pro then we’ll support that and do everything we can to help Quinn have success in Vancouver.”
Pearson said he hopes Hughes makes his decision by the end of next week so both the Canucks and Michigan Wolverines can begin to plan accordingly for next season.
“I’ve got a lot of smart people around me,” Hughes told reporters at Vancouver’s development camp last week. “The mindset they’ve kind of been telling me is ‘just put your head down, get to work.’ I’ve seen lots of high picks fold. For me, I just want to continue to get better. There’s pro and cons to every situation [but] I don’t think there’s a con playing in the NHL. Whatever happens, I’m going to look at the positive side.”
The Canucks have been near the bottom of the league standings in each of the past three seasons yet there is a sense of optimism around all the young talent and high-end prospects the franchise has accumulated.
With Elias Pettersson, Olli Juolevi, Thatcher Demko, Kole Lind and Jett Woo also waiting in the wings, Hughes is another reason for Canucks fans to be optimistic.
“Every day, you go to practice, every game there’s always that wow factor at some point with Quinn,” Pearson added. “Whether it’s next [season] or the year after, Vancouver, the fans, they’re going to be excited. He is one of those players that you will actually pay money to go watch. He’s that electrifying.”