KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Suspend your sense of reality, just for a few moments, as the Hughes brothers dominate here at the World Junior Showcase.
Now, let’s go back to 1999, when then Canucks general manager Brian Burke made the impossible happen in Vancouver.
It was one of the all-time great trading feats, as Burke — who already held the third overall pick — secured the No. 4 pick from Chicago for defenceman Bryan McCabe and a first-rounder the next year. He then flipped the pick to Tampa along with two third-round picks for No. 1 overall. Then he traded No. 1 to Atlanta for No. 2, for a conditional third and a promise by the Atlanta Thrashers to draft Patrik Stefan.
Or anyone other than his two targets: Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
“We didn’t really think it was going to happen,” Henrik told me back in 2011. “Even though we were in Sweden, we knew what the draft was about and what needed to happen for us to be picked together. We didn’t really think they would be able to pull it off.”
Today, the Vancouver Canucks already have defenceman Quinn Hughes in their stable, having drafted him this past June. His younger brother Jack will play in the World Junior Championships — held this Christmas in Vancouver and Victoria — as a 17-year-old.
Quinn has been the dominant player at this World Junior Showcase, a defenceman with the smooth stride and puck-moving skills that will likely make him a National Hockey League star one day. Jack is a forward who is good with the puck, playing in traffic with a heavy shot he gets away in the blink of an eye. He’s playing above his age group here and is one of the better players, a 17-year-old among 18- and 19-year-olds.
While Quinn went seventh overall to the Canucks, Jack is, as we speak, the consensus No. 1 overall pick in 2019.
The Sedins, the best brothers tandem ever to play together in the NHL have retired. The Canucks are expected to finish within trading distance of the No. 1 spot in the draft.
If lightning struck once, why not again?
“Since he was, like, three, four years old, he was always the best player (on his team),” Quinn said of his little brother. “He was that kid in novice who’d have six goals, and could lift the puck before anyone else. He was really good, right from the get-go.
“But when I really started to notice how good be was it was three, four years ago. He was playing a year up and there was talk about him getting exceptional status (in the OHL). And he’s playing a year up in Toronto, one of the best (minor hockey systems) around, and he was dominating.”
There is symmetry here, even if much of it exists in the dreamy world inhabited by Canucks fans. They had the Sedins, through Burke’s chicanery at the 1999 draft.
Why not the Hughes brothers as well?
The two combined for a game-winning goal late in a game against Canada early in this Showcase, with Jack setting up Quinn. They have rarely played on the same team in their lives, though there still exists some ‘Sedinery’ between them.
“I think there’s a connection there,” said Team USA coach Mike Hastings. “They both know that the other one is a pretty good player.”
As the youngest player at this tournament, Jack easily shows in the top 25 percentile. Likely higher.
He was not made available to media after Friday’s 2-1 win over Finland.
“Good competition out here,” he told NHL.com earlier in the week. “I just play my game. I can slow the game down if I want and speed the game up whenever I want to. I feel the game out and see how the pace is and read off that.”
The better the player, the slower the game moves for them. You can see it, when a 17-year-old looks this comfortable at this level. He’s special.
“There’s a factor with Jack that’s different than a lot of other players,” said Team USA general manager John Vanbiesbrouck. “He can whittle his way through the mix pretty fast, and he’s pretty captivating when you watch him. There is no playing on the perimeter for him. He gets to the middle of the ice.
“There is something emerging there. My observation, watching him play (since) midget hockey … he’s not just a great hockey player. He’s getting better.
“He’s taking it all in, and that’s what great players do.”
It happened once in Vancouver.
Could it happen again?