Zach
Weil
January 13, 2021

Hughes focused on the present in draft year

Luke Hughes has been one of the few prospects who has been able to play relatively consistent hockey in 2020-21 as he works his way towards the 2021 NHL Draft.

Back in March, when Hughes’ season ended abruptly due to COVID-19, he was able to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

“I was really lucky to have both my brothers back home,” Hughes said of his older sibings Quinn and Jack. “We trained all spring together in our garage and then trained at the gym. It was a really good summer for me personally, because I had both my brothers back and I skated with their group, guys like Kyle Connor, Zach Werenski, Josh Norris. I skated with a lot of pro guys, which really helped me develop.”

In August, USA Hockey announced that they were moving forward with their 2020-21 season and, since late October, have been underway without any major hiccups. This has given Hughes a chance to show scouts his growth as a player and offer a slight bit of normalcy.

“Obviously, anything can happen at any time,” Hughes said. “The season’s been going really well for us as a team. We’re just really lucky to play.”

While the defender is fortunate to be playing hockey, the season is still very much at the mercy of COVID-19. Things can change in an instant, so it is tough to look too far ahead. However, he is well aware of that and working hard on improving his game as the NHL Draft looms closer.

The prospect is simply taking this season one game at a time, continuing to work on his game, and is looking to his older brothers for advice for both the present and the future.

Hughes making his presence felt

So far, Hughes has played 19 games with the USNDP, where he is currently averaging just under a point per game with four goals, 13 assists, and 17 points. He’s the highest-scoring defender on his team by a wide margin, with Sean Behrens collecting 13 points so far.

“I’m just playing my game, exits, and entries, defending the rush, playing in the o-zone,” Hughes explained. “Right now, I’m playing on the right side with Behrens, who’s my D partner. So, we’ve been playing really well together. He’s so smart, so it’s pretty easy. We think alike, and personally, I think it’s been a really good start for myself and my teammates. We’ve got a really good team.”

Unlike many defensemen, Hughes has the hockey IQ and skill set to be a human highlight reel. On December 12, in the first game of two against the Air Force Academy, Hughes had an assist and scored the shootout winner helping to lead the U18’s to victory over a division one NCAA club.

“We went to Air Force a couple of weeks ago, and that was kind of the turning point for our team. We had two really good games, and it was just really cool to play a D1 game.”

Hughes is the fifth-ranked prospect in FCHockey’s preliminary draft rankings.

Josh Bell, a video scout for FCHockey, has high praise for the American defender and recently analyzed his game during one of those games against the Air Force.

“There’s a reason he’s a top prospect in this class,” Bell said in his scouting report. “Watching Hughes with the puck, he has the ability to completely take over shifts. He’ll pick up the puck in his own zone, and he can either carry it to the offensive zone or make a stretch pass. When he carries it on his own, he shows off excellent skating, including lateral crossovers to build speed and conserve energy and constant directional changes to manipulate those in his path.

“He’s one of the best skaters in this class, if not the best.”

Hughes brothers offer unique advantage

The youngest Hughes already has close ties to the NHL Draft. HE witnessed his oldest brother, Quinn, get drafted by the Vancouver Canucks seventh overall in 2018, followed a year later by Jack going first overall to the New Jersey Devils.

Like the Sutters and Staals before them, families have made their mark on the NHL draft throughout history. However, the Hughes brothers have a chance to be in a special category. With Quinn going seventh and Jack going first overall, if Luke gets picked inside the top seven – as many scouts envision – the Hughes brothers will become the highest combined draft selection of three brothers in NHL history.

Being the youngest brother in a generational hockey family comes with high expectations. Both Quinn and Jack entered the NHL in the 2019-20 season. Quinn being older and more physically mature after two highly-productive years at the University of Michigan, helped him achieve second place in the Calder Trophy voting. As a defenseman, the connections and comparisons to Luke are going to be inevitable.

“Watching my brother [Quinn] go through the draft has really helped me,” Hughes said. “The similarities I think we have is the way we think on ice. The hockey sense. We skate really similar. We’re both really good skaters. And just our overall competitiveness. We both want to win so much and winning is the name of the game.”

Luke, who doesn’t turn 18 until September 3, is already six-foot-two, four inches taller than his brother Quinn was at the time of his draft. Despite the much bigger frame, two of Luke’s most prominent strengths, skating and mobility, are just as sensational as his brother at the same age. Luke’s expectations are sky-high, but with his high-end skill set and the experience and mentorship from his brothers, he is set to make his mark on the draft in whatever form it happens.

The older Hughes brothers are a big reason why Luke has developed into the high-end talent he is today. They have always been there to offer Luke advice, and that is especially true in hs draft year.

“There are little things,” Hughes said, discussing the advice his siblings provide. “Just to be myself, play my game. But the biggest point is that it’s a really long year and how you got to stay even keel. You can’t get too high, or you can’t get too low, because it’s such a long year. And especially this year because of all the COVID stuff, I just got to stay even keel.”

Hughes trying not to look too far ahead

As this year still has so many uncertainties, Hughes has his mindset on the present. He’s only concerned about the things that he can control. 

“I’m just worried about getting better every day, working on my game and my individual skills, and trying to just play every game like it’s my last,” Hughes said. “[The draft] such a long time away. We don’t even know when the draft is going to be happening. So, right now, I’m just worried about the season, trying to win as many games as possible and just try to get better with my teammates every day.”

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