Prospect of Interest: Could Luke Hughes be even better than his brothers?

NHL prospect Luke Hughes explains why he would love to play with his brother Jack on the Devils but is also ready to contribute to any team that drafts him.

NHL history’s never been short on star siblings making their names in the league. The seeds of the next great brotherly crew have already been planted in recent years, with the Hughes family tossing two promising stars into the mix.

First came Quinn, drafted seventh overall by Vancouver in 2018, who got a handful of games in 2018-19 before going on to put up a dominant rookie season in 2019-20, amassing 53 points from the Canucks’ blue line. That campaign coincided with his younger brother Jack’s first go-round too, the latter debuting with the New Jersey Devils after being tabbed with the first-overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Now, the third of the trio is set to chart the last bit of his journey to the big leagues, as defender Luke Hughes heads into draft day looking likely to finish among the top 10, just as both his brothers did.

A quick-footed, big-bodied defenceman with star potential and massive expectations, here’s all you need to know about the youngest of the Hughes clan:

Team: U.S. NTDP
Position: Defence
Shoots: Left
Hometown: Canton, Michigan
Age: 17 (Sept. 9, 2003)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 176 pounds

A pair of Devils?

The hockey world’s expectations of Luke Hughes may weigh unfairly heavy on the young defender’s shoulders given the pedigree and success of his big-league brothers. But while the youngest of the three will likely have to navigate being compared to them through the early goings of his career — particularly Quinn, given they play the same position — having a family with deep roots in the game has also been an immense resource for Luke.

Especially amid one of the strangest stretches of professional hockey in history, which heaped a fair share of disruption upon his draft year.

“They taught me going into the year that, you know, you've got to be ready for everything,” Luke said while speaking to the media in early July, of how his brothers helped him navigate a chaotic season.

“You've got to stay level-minded and you can't get too high or low going through the year. And I think that really applies to me this year, because with all the COVID implications and getting shut down and quarantined at numerous times throughout the year, I think, you know, you've got to stay level-headed."

As it turns out, Luke might be in line to receive plenty more advice from his brother, with Jack’s Devils in line to pick fourth in the 2021 draft, the upper end of where Luke’s projected to potentially hear his name called. And Jack hasn’t been shy about making his feelings known on the possibility.

"There shouldn't be much convincing needed if he is there. I’d want to take him, and I'm not shy about saying that,” Jack told NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman recently. “But at the end of the day, Luke's going to find his way. He's a great player and I'd love to have him in New Jersey, but if it doesn't work out, I know he'll be successful wherever he goes."

For his part, Luke said he’ll simply be grateful to get a shot at the NHL level.

“It would be unbelievable to go to the Devils,” he said. “I mean, my brother clearly wants me to be there and it would be super cool to play with them. You know, I'd love that. But, at the same time, there are 32 great teams out there and I'd be happy to go to go to any one of those teams.”

Vancouver Canucks' Quinn Hughes, right, talks to his brother, New Jersey Devils' Jack Hughes. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

Runs in the family

Regardless of whether or not Luke will get the chance to suit up alongside Jack in New Jersey, there’s no doubt he’ll forever be compared to his brother Quinn — not only a fellow defender, but one of the most dynamic and promising blue-line talents in the game.

That the two both man the blue line is more than a coincidence, though.

“My brother Quinn transitioned kind of at the same age — we were both centres and then I think our bantam year, when we were 13 years old, we transitioned to D,” Luke said. “So, I kind of saw him do it, and we were really similar players back then. So that’s when I changed.”

Those who saw the two young rearguards in those days remember the similarities well. Former NHLer Patrik Stefan coached Luke for two seasons with the Detroit-based minor midget AAA team, the Little Caesars Hockey Club, and saw plenty of Quinn while he was nearby in Michigan, too. “They are a little bit different, but in the ways they excel it’s very similar,” Stefan told Sportsnet’s Ryan Dixon of the two brothers back in 2019. “The way they skate the puck up, it’s almost impossible to hit [them.]"

Stefan’s son James, who played on that same team with Luke, leading the squad in scoring, saw the similarities, too.

“His stride is the same as Quinn’s,” James told Dixon. “It’s so weird, but it picks up so much speed. It’s crazy. You see him at the goal line [and] he’ll be at the next goal line in no time. The creative part of his game is off the charts. He makes moves that not a lot of players can do.”

For what it's worth, Quinn sees a more apt comparable in Luke than himself — a young Dallas Star who looks poised for future Norris campaigns.

"I think Luke's got so much raw potential, his skating is so good and his hands... he's big and skates like Miro Heiskanen, but he's got my offensive mindset," Quinn said of Luke recently, via NHL.com's Mike Morreale. "I think when he's 20 or 21 years old, he's going to be an absolute beast."

The younger Hughes defender is set to continue following in Quinn’s footsteps next season, too. After watching the eldest Hughes brother go from the U.S. NTDP to the University of Michigan to the NHL, Luke will similarly follow up his own run in the U.S. NTDP with a stint in Wolverines colours next year.

“I’m super excited for my time there," Luke said of the coming transition to college hockey. "I think, you know, watching my brother Quinn go through it, and how much he grew — as a player, but more as a person, just to meet really smart people there, long-time friends — I’m really looking forward to it.”

And of course, if Luke winds up falling to the lower end of the 2021 NHL Draft’s top 10 and missing out on a chance to join Jack in New Jersey, he might just wind up alongside his other brother. Quinn’s Canucks are set to draft ninth overall.

The big little brother

Though his jersey will bear the same name on the back, and though there might be some similarities in the way Luke and his brothers move on the ice, there’s no question the youngest of the trio is a different animal compared to his siblings.

The main reason for that is obvious — his size. While Jack and Quinn both clock in under six feet (five-foot-11 for the former, five-foot-10 for the latter), Luke is already six-foot-two and 176 pounds at just 17 years old.

“He’s got the whole package,” Jack told The Athletic’s Corey Masisak last year. “A lot of people said stuff about me and Quinn and our size, and we had to work through that. For Luke, he’s got all of the same abilities as us, but he’s also a big kid.”

"You're dealing with a completely different player," Jack added in a later interview with Morreale. "He's got the skating, he's got the smarts that Quinn has, but this kid is big ... he's not the normal Hughes. It's going to be a different defenceman than Vancouver has with Quinn. He's going to be huge in shutting guys down, being offensive."

Those same offensive abilities seem to have shone so far for Luke, who put up 15 points in 18 games for the U.S. NTDP last season, and 34 points in 38 games for the national U-18 squad. And yet, while some point to his size, and some to his playmaking ability, his longtime trainer sees a different aspect of his skill-set as his most important. For performance coach Dan Ninkovich — who's trained all three Hughes brothers for years, as well as likely No. 1 pick Owen Powers — it's Luke's skating ability and transition game that truly set him apart. "Luke’s forte is his great lateral mobility," he told Sportsnet recently. "He puts pressure on his opponents with his skating, on both ends of the ice."

As for how he sees his own skill-set, the young NHL hopeful says it's his versatility he takes most pride in.

“I can play in all situations," Luke said. "I can play the power play, I can play the PK, you know, I can defend the cycle, defend the rush, defend net-front. I'm really poised with the puck in my transition game. And then, you know, I think a big part of my game is my exits and entries, my exits out of the D-zone, entries into the offensive zone, and then in the offensive zone I think I'm pretty deceptive with the puck and I try to make things happen in there.”

That ability to make things happen has brought far more intrigue for the youngest Hughes brother than his last name. And while he looks likely to slide to the middle of the top 10 like Quinn did, there's a chance he could've followed Jack's draft-day footsteps had his season not been so significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

"To me, the runway is there and the upside is almost limitless," NHL Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said of Luke, via Morreale. "When you put together the whole package of his size, skill and IQ, there's potential that he'll be the best of the Hughes brothers. But he could be the best of this draft, too. He has that kind of ability and upside.

"This is a player I think would have really made some people start asking questions (about who should be drafted No. 1) if he had been able to finish the year."

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