July 22, 2021

Froese & Revak: Breaking down Hughes game

Luke Hughes is the brother of superstars Jack Hughes and Quinn Hughes. Their father Jim was the Toronto Maple Leafs’ director of player development from 2009-2015 and has been a professional coach since 1992. Their mother played college hockey and represented the USA women’s team. Needless to say, the Hughes boys have plenty of solid hockey influences at home and plenty of resources that come with it.

Hughes is not the furthest along in his development curve. He is one of the youngest players in the draft and plays a game with many foundational skills that can be leveraged. This is why people are excited for the third Hughes brother.

Where he excels

Mobility – For a mid-framed player, I don’t think you could ask for a whole lot more here. He’s got great flexibility and posture: knees and ankles look good, chest up, leg stacked and there’s width to his base. He seems to get on the balls of his feet and seldom on his heels (we will circle back here on his defensive play). He floats on the ice, has a really efficient glide, and can show efficiency and explosiveness through weight shifts.

Puck positioning and creating space – Like his brother Jack, he does tend to hold pucks out in front of his body quite often which can be detrimental. Yet he does use it as leverage to deceive opponents from time to time. He’s efficient at using deception to draw pressure to the puck and then holstering pucks back to his hip after he’s baited his opposition and controlled their route. His ability to move laterally and integrate deceptive footwork allows him to roll off pressure and recreate new pockets to move pucks. This creates pause in opposition and he’s able to create passing and shooting lanes off of multiple angles. His emphasis is A) to establish then control pucks inside the dot line or B) pull defenders outside the dot line so he can create room inside for teammates to isolate opponents. 

Skill stacking and execution of high-impact plays – Commonly with watching Hughes, it is rare that he is stationary when moving or receiving a puck. All parts of his body move independently from one another and he is able to get away with remaining deceptive, even while underhandling pucks because his eyes are up taking in feedback from his surroundings and his feet are moving to get him into a better position. He seems to be able to calculate, execute and then fill holes at higher rates of speed with his ability to control ice and possessions. It’s why he’s so hard to pin down because whether he executes or not, he’s able to pick up pucks with speed and show he’s ready to make a first touch play or go on the attack.

Defensive range and raw athleticism – His skating and frame combine to create an imposing problem for attacking opponents as he absorbs a tonne of ice and options. His closing speed and stick pressure can set him apart if there’s refinement and method.

Where he needs to make up ground

Shoulder checks and general play mapping – Hughes is a kid who has several signature skills but some platform plays (skills that translate with advancement) such as scanning the ice pre-touch with a shoulder check are the biggest challenges. His skill expression and play under pressure yield creativity and often optimal results. Although he struggles with simple plays as he’ll often make assumptions instead of fact-finding routine plays.

His reads are very inconsistent and you’ll see poor passes come from him regularly. Will Scouch tracks passing percentage and Hughes pass percentage was around 60%… not good. Often this is caused by weak awareness beyond the immediate physical pressure and inability to read beyond the first layer. A simple passing progression and shoulder checking would do wonders for him. 

Defensive maturity – Hughes is like Ricky Vaughn pitching for Cleveland in the movie Major League, you know he’s going to be giving you the heater but it’s guesswork as to whether he’s going to paint three on the corner, throw at the batter’s head, or over the backstop at Jacob’s field.

He is completely capable of making excellent reads, using closing speed, physicality, and a controlled stick to break up the play. Yet, he is very inconsistent with his approach. Either you’ll see him being very aggressive or very passive. This leads to him often over committing or simply sit back and allow too much space for the opposition.

Another thing to note is that Hughes has an excellent defensive stick. Almost to a fault sometimes where when he misses, the pipe doesn’t just break, it bursts.

Managing risk – Ties in a lot with his defensive maturity and I believe factors such as his game style, talent level and how he’s utilized plays a role. High-stakes gambling has its trade offs and when you’re right you’re gold and when you’re wrong you’re the scapegoat.

There’s a constant attack mindset with him that is valuable, but needs to be honed to puck his spots. He should be doing an assessment prior to his decision-making. A) what’s my fallback plan if I miscalculate? B) Where is support situated if I execute? C) where are the alternate threats or is my opponent isolated? D) what is the disadvantage of making a low event play to ride out this scenario?

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