The 19-year-old elicited cheers from the hometown crowd with his speed and skill, and earned a highlight-reel assist in the Canucks’ 3-2 shootout victory over the L.A. Kings.
But Hughes, taken seventh overall by Vancouver at the 2018 draft, said his first game was just the beginning.
“I’m just trying to take it one step at a time and learn every day,” he said. “From game one to game two I’ll be better and from game two to game three I’ll be better. I’ll just try to keep building.”
Hughes signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Canucks earlier this month after his University of Michigan Wolverines were turfed from the playoffs, but a nagging ankle injury kept him temporarily on the sidelines.
Watching the young talent in action on Thursday was fun, said Vancouver coach Travis Green.
“He’s got special talent, that’s for sure,” he said. “It doesn’t look like he lacks confidence which you want in your guys that are skilled. You want them to make plays and he made a few tonight that obviously are very exciting.”
Hughes’ confidence was apparent midway through the second period when the rookie blue liner deked out Kings centre Trevor Lewis below the L.A. goal line, escaping his check and gaining time and space to get back out front and put a shot on net.
His attempt ricocheted off the post to Canucks right-winger Brock Boeser, who fired a speedy wrist shot in top shelf.
“I’m just trying to make hockey plays out there. That’s all I’m trying to do. I thought I could pull that off,” Hughes said after the game.
Alex Edler also scored for Vancouver in regulation, tallying the 94th goal of his career and passing Mattias Ohlund to set a new Canucks franchise record for goals by a defenceman.
“It is special,” Edler said of the feat. “There are some pretty big names up there, Mattias being up there. It’s a special milestone.”
Tanner Pearson clinched win for the Canucks (33-35-10) by scoring in the fourth round of the shootout.
Austin Wagner and Adrian Kempe put up goals for the Kings (28-41-8).
Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko made 37 saves in regulation and Jonathan Quick stopped 36-of-38 shots for L.A.
Kings coach Willie Desjardins said both teams played hard on Thursday.
“I liked the fact we came back in the third, found a way to tie it up, but then you certainly wish you could have gotten a little bit more at the end,” he said.
Overtime saw Hughes join Boeser and star rookie Elias Pettersson for the 3-on-3 where the future faces of the franchise stunned both fans and their teammates.
“It was fun to watch” Demko said. “I felt like a spectator for a second, just watching those guys move the puck and make those reads off each other was really special. Obviously they’re really talented guys and they were showing it.”
The combination is something Boeser said he could get used to.
“Just watching (Hughes) buzz around and just find open areas, I mean, you see how good of a skater he is when he cuts to the middle and goes around the whole net,” Boeser said. “He had all four of the Kings guys, including the goalie, watching him. So it shows how much of an impact he can make in his first game.”
The coaching staff wanted to put the young trio out together in extra time and the results were special, Green said
“I was enjoying it, to say the least,” he said with a laugh. “They probably could have had a couple quick ones.”
One chance saw Boeser direct a laser at the Kings net but Quick robbed him with an acrobatic glove save.
“That’s Quickie,” L.A.’s Dustin Brown said of the move. “(It) might be one of the best saves I’ve ever seen him make and that’s a lot of really good saves. He played really well for us.”
The win snapped a three-game losing skid for Vancouver and kept the team’s faint playoff hopes alive. They currently sit seven points behind Colorado for the second wild-card spot in the West with four games to play.
The Canucks will be back on action on Saturday, hosting the Dallas Stars.
The Chicago Blackhawks will visit the Kings the same night.
NOTES: Brown played his 1,112th game for the Kings on Thursday, setting a new franchise record. The 34-year-old right-winger passed Dave Taylor. After spending his entire playing career with the Kings, Taylor became the team’s general manager and drafted Brown 13th overall in 2003. … Vancouver defenceman Ben Hutton returned to the lineup after missing 11 games with a fractured foot.