Red Wings Draft Candidates: Luke Hughes

The 2018 and 2019 drafts are somewhat of a sore spot for fans of the Detroit Red Wings for two reasons: the Hughes brothers. Quinn, a defenseman, was selected in 2018 by the Vancouver Canucks at seventh overall, the next pick after the Red Wings drafted Filip Zadina. The tanking “motto” for the 2018-19 season was “Lose for Hughes”, referring to Jack, a center that was ultimately drafted by the New Jersey Devils with the first pick in the draft (of course, the Red Wings came away with defenseman Moritz Seider in that draft, so fans aren’t as heartbroken over losing out on Jack.) While both brothers spent a considerable amount of time playing hockey in the state of Michigan (Quinn played a season with the University of Michigan as well), neither of them found their way to the NHL club located in the Mitten State.

Believe it or not, there is a third Hughes brother: Luke. A defenseman like his brother Quinn, the youngest Hughes brother is one of the top prospects available in the 2021 draft, with some scouting sources ranking him as THE top prospect available. Unlike his brothers, he did not spend nearly as much time in Michigan as his brothers did, but he is the only one that was born in the state, and he is also committed to playing next season with the University of Michigan – again, just like Quinn. The Wolverines look set to have a potentially formidable top pairing that features Hughes and presumptive number one pick Owen Power, who recently stated that he is leaning towards returning to Ann Arbor for his sophomore season. Make no mistake, though: Hughes is going to be just as worth the price of admission as Power is.

Related: Red Wings 2021 Draft Coverage

With the sixth pick in the 2021 entry draft, the Red Wings will undoubtedly add an intriguing prospect to an already impressive pool that includes the aforementioned Seider, Lucas Raymond and Joe Veleno. Depending on how things play out, the Red Wings and their fans may finally get their hands on a Hughes brother this year. They should definitely be excited if they do, as Luke has the potential to be the very best of the Hughes brothers.

The Quinn Hughes Comparison

First and foremost: a lot of the good in Hughes’ game mirrors that of his brother Quinn; both excel at leading the attack from the backend, and both have dynamic offensive tools that make them almost like a fourth forward on the ice. Luke has about four inches on Quinn, though, so his ability to carry the puck up ice is a bit more “attractive” given that he has a bigger body to go with his mobility. Ultimately, it’s that blend of good size and high-end skill that makes him such an enticing prospect in this draft.

I asked Dayton Reimer, a member of the scouting team here at THW, about Hughes, and he was quick to highlight the similarities between Luke and his older brother.

Hughes has been compared to his older brother, Quinn, in that they both play a similar style, using high mobility and excellent vision to control the puck and carry the play. Better yet, Luke has a similar potential to the Vancouver Canucks star, as they both have very similar totals in both the USHL and USNDP, but at 6-foot-2, also brings some size to the blue line.

– Dayton Reimer

Beyond his ability to create offense, Hughes is also an aggressive stick-checker which helps him disrupt plays on defense as well as turn pucks over. He relies on his stick-checking a lot, so there’s reason to believe that it can become a trademark of his game. He is almost always in control of his stick, whether on offense or defense, and that puts him in a position to quickly transition the play from defense to offense.

Hughes is super creative in the offensive zone; there is zero doubt in my mind that he’ll develop into a power play quarterback at the NHL level based solely on his offensive instincts and how he reads plays in the offensive zone. To that point, another player that comes to mind when I watch him is San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson. In his heyday, the Swedish defenseman logged big-time minutes on the back-end because of how dynamic he was in the offensive zone. He won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 2012 and 2015 due in part to the fact that he collected 78 and 66 points from the blue line, respectively. I think it’s within Hughes’ potential to reach that kind of production.

Defense? I Thought You Said Offense!

If you’re looking for a safe, stay-at-home defender, Hughes isn’t it. In fact, one of his greatest strengths – his offensive creativity – leads into one of the biggest holes in his game. When you try to create plays like this player does, you’re bound to give the puck to the other team from time to time. The problem here is that once he gives the puck up, he lacks the defensive prowess to make up for it.

Luke Hughes of the USDP
Luke Hughes of the USDP (Photo: Rena Laverty)

When Hughes’ stick-checking fails him, he doesn’t always display the ability to recover and use his body to make defensive blocks and reads. There were times this season where the attacker got in behind him with the puck, and it almost seemed like he gave up on the play entirely. To some extent, this also like Karlsson – he wasn’t/isn’t exactly astute in his own zone, and it’s up to his offense to make up for it. The goal for whichever team that drafts him should be to help raise the “floor” of his defensive game while also nurturing the “ceiling” of his offensive game.

The other thing to note with Hughes is that sometimes it seems like he puts blinders on in the offensive zone. By that I mean he sometimes tries to do things by himself, or he sticks to a play regardless of whether a better option is available. This is something that I think he can easily correct over time; the best offensive players know how to slow the game down and take their time, and Hughes has the potential to be a truly dominant offensive player.

NHL Readiness

As already mentioned, Hughes is committed to play for the University of Michigan this Fall. To further the comparison to his brother Quinn, there’s a very real chance that Luke follows the same path to the NHL by playing a season with the Wolverines before making a late-season debut with his NHL team. The following season, 2022-23, is a realistic goal for Hughes to make his debut as a full-time NHLer. Maybe it’s his bloodline, but this isn’t a player that I foresee spending a ton of time in the AHL – possibly just for a playoff run at the end of next season.

Fit with the Red Wings

“With the Red Wings lacking a dynamic defensive presence outside of Moritz Seider, Hughes would give their blue line a massive boost that could move their rebuild ahead by at least a couple years,” Reimer said. To his point, not only does adding Hughes fill the hole in the prospect pool that Seider will leave when he graduates next season, but together, they constitute a future top pair that has the potential to be one of the most dominant pairs in the league. That’s what you hope for when you have two blue-chip defensive prospects in the system.

Like it or not, the Red Wings are known for their desire to turn their players into two-way threats. Recently, we’ve seen this in action with defenseman and 2016 first round pick Dennis Cholowski, whose calling card to date has been a great first pass and his offensive instincts. Despite that, he has yet to play a full season in Detroit due to his ineffectiveness and inconsistency in the defensive zone. Make no mistake: the Red Wings would work with Hughes to round out his defensive game before unleashing his offensive gifts. To some, this might seem like a mistake, but it is a necessity in the case of Hughes if he wants to realize his ultimate potential.

Best Player Available

Reimer did not hesitate about whether or not Hughes would be a worthwhile pick for the Red Wings.

“If Luke Hughes falls to sixth overall, the Red Wings have to grab him,” he said. If he is still on the board at sixth, he may very well be THE best player available, depending on who else is still up for grabs. That being said, one of his brothers might have a say in the matter.

“There shouldn’t be much convincing needed to do,” Jack Hughes said of the Devils potentially drafting his brother. “I would think that if he’s there, I want us to take him. I’m not shy about saying that.” (From “‘I want us to take him’: Devils’ connections run deep with top 2021 draft prospects”, The Athletic, 6/2/21) The Devils hold the fourth pick in this year’s draft, and they are potentially the most logical landing spot for Jack’s brother. If Luke makes it past pick four, the Red Wings should feel pretty good about their chances of adding the youngest Hughes brother.

Other Quotes

“Impact player with a high skill level. He has the desire to make a difference and the ability to deliver in the critical and demanding moments.” – Craig Button, TSN

“Hughes is the rare gem along the blue line whose hands can keep up with the quickness of his feet. Having soft hands and an aggressive mindset helps him deal with pressure in either safe or risky fashion, yet there is a high degree of finesse in the way Hughes outmaneuvers a dogged forecheck.” – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst

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