If you say the name “Hughes” to a modern day hockey fan, fans in the Western Conference will tell you all about Quinn, a member of the Vancouver Canucks, while fans in the Eastern Conference will likely talk about Jack, who plays for the New Jersey Devils. Both brothers are highly skilled with their hands and feet, and both have a knack for creating offense – Quinn from the blue line and Jack from the center position. That bloodline runs a little deeper, though, as the 2021 draft saw Luke join his brother Jack as a member of the Devils after New Jersey made him the fourth overall selection.
In his Freshman season with the University of Michigan, the same school Quinn spent his two college seasons at, Luke Hughes has quickly made a name for himself throughout Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“My consistency for most of the year has been pretty good,” Hughes said. “I think I’ve had a really strong year so far and I’m trying to be the best version of me and try to help my team win every night.”
Through 20 games with the Wolverines this season, the young defenseman has an impressive 18 points. While Michigan has their sights set on winning an NCAA championship, Hughes has his eyes set on a different championship to close out 2021: the World Junior Championship (WJC), set to begin in Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta. If he achieves his goal, he’ll obtain something neither of his more famous brothers have: a gold medal.
Hughes Brings Offense to Team USA’s Blue Line
There is a lot of talk going around the hockey world about what constitutes a “modern day defenseman”. With young defensemen like Cale Makar, Adam Fox and Luke’s brother Quinn acting like a fourth forward in the offensive zone while also being adept enough on defense to take care of business in their own zone, the notion of defensemen sticking to defense suddenly seems like a relic from the past. Now it seems like the best of the best defensemen are able to “quarterback” a power play from the point, create plays from up high and down low in the zone, lead the rush, and help their goalies keep the puck out of the good guys’ net, naturally.
That is what the Devils drafted Hughes to become, and that’s what Team USA will need from him if they want to go toe-to-toe with the best offenses this year’s WJC has to offer.
“I think (US management) knows what I bring to the table… I can defend the cycle, have a good stick and can (lead) controlled entries off the rush,” Hughes said of his game.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and 186 pounds, Hughes is a bit bigger than his brother Quinn, but his style of play is very similar. While his bigger size should allow him to play a bit more of a physical game, that is not what he’s known for; in fact, if he’s trying to use his size to throw hits and impose on his opponents that way, that means the puck isn’t on his stick, or anybody else on his team. Possession is key, and his game is based around having the puck and distributing it. When all is said and done, he should lead Team USA’s blueliners in points, and he could very well challenge for the overall team lead in points depending on how successful he is at being a creator.
Hughes’ Talents (and Deficiencies) Will be on Display
Now that the Americans’ roster is all set, Hughes will join Matty Beniers, his teammate with the Wolverines, as a key player for this year’s version of Team USA. Both players will be called upon to make a difference for their team on a nightly basis, and their ability to do so could be the deciding factor in whether or not they’ll be wearing some precious metal around their necks in the first week of January.
“I just want to show them the best version of me,” Hughes said.
In order to show the world the best version of himself, Hughes will have to live up to that description of a modern day defenseman. While his ability to create in the offensive zone is unquestioned, his play in the defensive zone has almost always been a question among scouts. He’s never been an outright liability in his own zone, but there’s a difference between not being a problem and actually making an impact. When he is on his game, he creates turnovers and quickly transitions his team onto offense, be it with a break out pass or by lugging the puck out of the zone and up the ice by himself. His ability to disrupt and break up plays in the defensive zone will be put to the test in this tournament.
Of course, as a college student, he’s used to taking tests at this point.
Team USA Needs Hughes to Be a Difference-Maker
When brother Quinn played in the 2018 and 2019 WJC’s, he put up five points across 14 games, culminating in a bronze and silver medal. This year’s Team USA is trying to become the first team to repeat since Team Canada cemented a four-peat back in 2009. To be quite frank, Luke will have to put up at least five points in this year’s tournament as the main offensive catalyst on the blue line if the Americans are going to succeed. It’s a big ask, but this is a player capable of rising to the challenge.
The WJC is the kind of stage where stars are made. While Quinn and Jack understandably come to mind when hockey fans hear the name Hughes, it may not be long before Luke inserts himself into that dialogue. In fact, if he has anything to say about it, we’ll be talking about him a lot more than his brothers by the time the calendar flips to 2022.
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.