VANCOUVER – The son of a hockey coach, Quinn Hughes took his first shift at a rink on a change table, which was actually the desk in his dad’s office when Jim Hughes was an assistant with the Orlando Solar Bears of the old International League.
"Not only was I taking him to the rink, but I was changing his diaper there," Jim told Sportsnet on Friday after his oldest boy was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks. "From a very young age, Quinn and (younger brothers) Jack and Luke have always been around rinks and in locker rooms.
"I worked in Boston with Robbie Ftorek, and the boys would just sit and watch Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov and eat their popcorn. This is what we do. Our kids have played tons of outdoor hockey in Toronto. Does Quinn love the game? Yeah, but he lives it, too. He eats it, he sleeps it, drinks it, watches it and plays it."
And he’s going to play it at the National Hockey League level for the Canucks.
After getting unlucky with the draft lottery and draft order the last two years, the Canucks hit the jackpot Friday in Dallas when the dynamic defenceman from the University of Michigan fell into their grateful arms with the seventh selection.
After the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes reached early for centres who were ranked lower than Hughes, one of the most exciting players in the draft was still available when the Canucks picked.
Vancouver general manager Jim Benning, not typically prone to displays of ebullience, could barely contain his glee.
"I’m so happy and so excited for our fans that he was there because he’s a dynamic skater and can run a power play," Benning said. "With all the skilled forwards we have coming and our young goalies, this is really exciting. He’s such a skilled, exciting, dynamic player.
"He’s going to fit perfectly with the style of game we want to play because he can get back, get the puck and beat the first forechecker with speed. He can transition the puck up ice either by skating or making a good play. And he plays fast.
"Some luck came our way this year. We had a good day today."
The Canucks need a skilled, fast, offensive defenceman like the polar ice cap needs a cold spell. Vancouver’s last elite power-play quarterback was Paul Reinhart, who retired in 1990.
Hughes, who is five-foot-10 and 175 pounds, had 29 points in 37 games this season as a freshman at Michigan. Last year, he had 53 points in 65 games in USA Hockey’s under-18 program. His speed and potential offence make him a game-changer. No wonder the Canucks were ecstatic to get him.
Benning’s assistant GM, John Weisbrod, grew up with Jim Hughes on Long Island and hired him in Orlando when Weisbrod was the Solar Bears’ manager. That’s where Quinn and Jack Hughes, a potential first-overall pick in next year’s NHL draft in Vancouver, were born.
Jim Hughes went on to coach in Boston, then worked for 11 years in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey-operations department. He now works for agents Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry in player-development for Creative Artists Agency’s hockey division. Barry represented Canuck icons Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Hughes’ wife, Ellen, played for Team USA at the 1992 world hockey championship. The family lives in Canton, Mich., but Quinn, despite his American citizenship, considers Toronto his home town.
"I grew up in a hockey family and was very fortunate to do so," Quinn, as articulate as he is skilled, told Sportsnet. "Growing up in Toronto, hockey is all they talked about on the radio and most of the time it was negative. But my dream was to play in a hockey market, and there’s no better place to do it than in Vancouver. I know how passionate the city is and how hungry they are for a championship. I’m really excited."
Despite natural questions about the 18-year-old’s strength and defensive capability, Quinn thinks he can play in the NHL next season.
"I don’t want to be naive or anything, but I think I’m ready right now," he said. "I know it’s a hard league. I feel very confident, feel like I can help the Vancouver Canucks.
"It’s funny because everyone says, defensively, I’m not the best. But that was what my dad stressed the most. That was the most important thing to him. My plus/minus was the highest on the team at Michigan and I was only on the ice for one goal against (for Team USA) at the world championships and it was against South Korea. And we won 13-1. I feel very confident defensively."
His dad is confident, too.
"Will there be a learning curve?" Jim Hughes asked. "Absolutely. We’re talking about the National Hockey League. But Quinn’s always been a guy who understands his stick and leverage and body position and angling. He learned that from a very young age. His skating, obviously, is elite. I think his hockey sense is elite and I think his mental toughness and mental fortitude is elite.
"We know how passionate the fans are in Vancouver. His mental strength and fortitude… he’s a hockey player. He has always embraced a challenge."
Jim Hughes said Jack was so happy for Quinn on Friday he wanted to storm the draft floor to hug Weisbrod.
The youngest brother, Luke, is 14 and playing minor hockey in Detroit for Bryan Smolinski, a former Canuck who raved to the Hughes family about Vancouver.
"I never took it easy on Jack," Quinn said. "If it was mini-sticks or anything, I always tried to beat him. I think that’s where he got his competitiveness and I got mine. Even Luke is so competitive and fiery. We all love hockey and we all love winning."