VANCOUVER – Without older brother Quinn Hughes pushing him, it’s likely Jack Hughes wouldn’t be an automatic first-overall pick for the New Jersey Devils tonight in the National Hockey League entry draft.
They were still competing Wednesday when the Hughes boys took on the Grouse Grind, the famous vertical hike in the North Shore Mountains that climbs 2,800 feet over 2.9 kilometres to a spectacular viewpoint overlooking Vancouver and English Bay.
"Luke kicked both their assess," Jim Hughes said of his youngest son. "He did it in 40:38. Jack and Quinn were in the 47-(minute) range.
"There’s no doubt, because of Quinn, Jack definitely benefitted from being around older kids all the time. When he was seven, eight, nine years old, he was always playing against Quinn’s friends. He didn’t know any better.
“It wasn’t just playing up in age his whole youth hockey career, but any of the summer or spring stuff we did, when we put small groups together, Jack was always included. There’s no doubt his advancement was even greater because of his surroundings."
Quinn, 19, was the Vancouver Canucks’ seventh-overall draft pick last June, and general manager Jim Benning has been giving thanks for the dynamic defenceman ever since.
Eighteen-year-old Jack, a record-shattering centre from the mighty U.S. National Team Development Program, is universally rated the top prospect for the NHL draft that begins here tonight and continues Saturday. Luke, already the tallest of the boys at 5-11, doesn’t turn 16 until September and will join the NTDP next fall. He will be eligible for the 2021 NHL draft.
The Hughes family is based in Michigan, but the boys spent nearly a decade of their childhood in Toronto, where Jim was a minor-league assistant and player-development coach for the Maple Leafs.
Jack was in the Canucks’ team suite after Vancouver drafted Quinn a year ago, and he’ll be in what could soon be Quinn’s house tonight at Rogers Arena. The Canucks, alas, do not pick until 10th and Benning said his conversations with New Jersey about potentially moving up to the top spot were brief.
"We spent a lot of time with Jack last year and we spent a lot of time with him this year," Benning said Thursday. "He’s a fantastic player. He’s got a different personality than Quinn. Jack is full of confidence. I would say Quinn is a little more humble. But they’re both great kids and great players."
"Ever since he started playing, when Jack was at the rink, everyone knew that Jack was at the rink," Jim Hughes said. "He’s been on that mountain top for a long time. And when you’re on the top of the mountain, people always try to knock you off. But Jack’s still there. I think he’s used to it. He’s comfortable there. That gives you confidence. But he channels that confidence and he’s very humble about it. Jack’s journey has been different than Quinn’s journey."
Jack certainly looked comfortable on Thursday, smoothly handling a massive media scrum while wearing sunglasses and cap on the deck of a boat hired by the NHL to show off its top prospects.
Asked about the oddest moment he has endured amid the intense year-long scrutiny leading to Friday night, Jack said there really hasn’t been a lot of "weird stuff."
Naturally, we figured we should help him out.
Question: How cool would it be for you and Quinn to be finalists for the Calder Trophy the same season?
Hughes: "Man, we’re a long way away from that. I haven’t played a game in the National League yet. I’m not too worried about that right now."
After a tantalizing five-game cameo last spring straight out of the University of Michigan, Quinn Hughes is expected to be a rookie focal point for the Canucks next season when they play the Devils.
Twenty years ago, former Canuck GM Brian Burke conjured the impossible when he made a series of trades to acquire two of the top three picks and drafted Swedish brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who spent their entire careers with Vancouver before retiring in 2018 as the leading scorers in franchise history.
"I think we’ve talked about it, but it’s not going to happen," Jack said of playing with Quinn in the NHL. "Maybe down the road. Right now, we’re going to be looking forward to beating each other next year. It’s going to be higher stakes, going to be the National League. My mom’s probably going to be really nervous. It will be a really special game."
Later, Jack said: "It’s always been me versus Quinn, making each other better. Over the years it’s been unbelievable."
"My parents always told us how lucky we are to have each other," Quinn said. "You don’t really get that as a kid. But for me now, looking back, I kind of understand how lucky I was to have two brothers that play hockey and love it as much as I do."
The boys get this from their parents. Before his career in coaching, Jim Hughes captained Providence College. His wife, Ellen, played for Team USA at the 1992 Women’s World Championship. Jim and Ellen followed their soon-to-be-famous sons up the Grouse Grind this week.
"Mom and dad did it in 1:14," Jim said. "I’ve got to admit, it was hard. I was told that it was hard, but I thought it was excruciating. But it was an amazing experience. We all finished it. We all made it to the top."