ST. LOUIS – Quinn Hughes arrived in St. Louis Thursday as the youngest player at the NHL’s all-star weekend, was named runner-up in the PHWA’s mid-season Calder Trophy vote, and is a significant reason the resurgent Vancouver Canucks sit atop the Pacific Division at the 50-game mark.
Yet younger brother Jack Hughes will still correct a questioner who suggests Quinn may be exceeding his own hype.
“I don’t think that’s true. I mean, people in Vancouver praised him before the season. We were kinda like, this is trouble. Like, a lot of expectations,” Jack Hughes said recently.
“We knew what he was gonna be. He knew what he was gonna be. So, it’s not surprising to us. Maybe for you guys, but not for us — and definitely to the Vancouver media, it’s no surprise.”
There is a quiet confidence about hockey’s “now” generation, the flood of under-25-year-olds taking over all-star weekend in Missouri and dazzling their teams to contention.
(Tyler Seguin, that wise veteran of 27, calls them “swaggy” — and he loves to see it.)
So, when Quinn, at 20, can sit in his all-star sweater under the bright lights, head high, nerves nonexistent, and say how nothing much has surprised him jumping from the University of Michigan to an NHL playoff hunt, you believe him.
“His confidence,” says Canucks teammate and fellow all-star Jacob Markstrom, marvelling at what has most impressed him about the defenceman.
“He doesn’t get stressed up. You guys see him off the ice. He’s not a very crazy person. He is so calm. But his confidence is huge with the puck. Small, tight situations, playing against star players — nothing changes for him. He’s just playing his game and having fun doing it.”
Hughes, who will go toe-to-toe with Connor McDavid in Friday’s fastest skater contest and let his 3-on-3 wheels loose for the Pacific in Saturday’s tournament, says his first all-star experience improved instantly when Toronto’s Auston Matthews (wrist) was replaced by good friend and fellow ’99 baby Brady Tkachuk.
Hughes lived with Brady and dad Keith for two years when the young players were in the U.S. national program together.
“It made my weekend 10 times better,” Quinn says. “I’m excited to hang out with Matthew. I’ve known him a long time, and then with Brady coming I get to hang out with him, too, so it’s really exciting.”
Did Jack consider making a flight from Newark to St. Louis to hang with Quinn and the Tkachuk boys?
“Oh, God, no,” Jack laughs. “No, I’m gonna take my nine-day break and just chill.”
Jack does say he’s proud of his big brother, and the two talk constantly, even more this season than in others. A simple “congrats” is all Quinn needed to hear from Jack.
“We don’t make too big a deal out of these things,” Quinn shrugs. “We’re going through this together. We’ve always been really tight.
“I definitely had goals in my mind, but I wasn’t really sure what I could and couldn’t do. I’m grateful, and it’s been a great year so far.”
They say “act like you’ve been there before,” but few pull it off like the Canucks’ power-play quarterback.
As the cameras and recording devices swarmed during Thursday’s media day, he explained how he’s learning to discipline his sleeping and eating habits to prepare his body for the rigours of an 82-game grind (Quinn leads all freshmen in ice time, averaging 21:36). Quinn spoke of his admiration for fellow American Patrick Kane, his favourite to watch, and wisely steered clear of throwing fuel on the Battle of Alberta.
“All I can say is I know Matthew off the ice and the family, and they’re some of my favourite people and best friends,” Quinn said. “I love Matthew, and I got a lot of respect for how good he is as a player, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon worked with the Hughes brothers over the summer when Jack and Quinn flew out to Halifax to learn from super-trainer Andy O’Brien.
“He was quiet. Very nice person. As a player, unreal,” MacKinnon says. “Him and Jack both. They look like twins out there. They look like the same player. Both amazing, and they’re gonna have unreal careers.”
Quinn’s smoothness and evasiveness struck MacKinnon, who plays nightly with that other Calder Trophy–hunting defenceman, Cale Makar.
“I think they’re different, but amazing in their own way,” MacKinnon explains. “I don’t know Quinn a ton, but he maybe slows the game down a little bit and Cale kind of speeds it up. He’s always on the attack.”
While the early returns on Quinn Hughes are lending credence to the Norris-sized hoopla that accompanied him to Vancouver, an actual Norris winner gave his assessment of the poised phenom.
Chris Pronger, who now works for the Panthers’ front office, watched Quinn closely when the Canucks rolled through Florida earlier this month and was happy to give his scouting report.
“Tremendous skater, transitions with the puck, offensively dynamic and creates so much out there. I think, as everybody knows, he’s just gotta work on his defensive game and work on that side of it [while] still playing to his strengths,” Pronger said. “The knock on Quinn is gonna be: Can he handle the size, whether it be in the playoffs or late in seasons when it gets a little tougher?”
Well, he certainly doesn’t come off as the kind of player who will shirk from the moment.