Vancouver Canucks prospect Quinn Hughes recently won a silver medal at the 2019 World Junior Championships, where he was an assistant captain. He only recorded two assists in seven games, but stats don’t always tell the whole story.
It’s abundantly clear Hughes has the skill to be an impact player when he makes the jump to the National Hockey League, which could be as soon as his college season ends this spring. But what is it exactly about Hughes’ game that translates so well to the pro level?
The Athletic Ranks Hughes as the Top NHL Prospect
Corey Pronman, an NHL prospects writer for The Athletic, ranked Hughes as the number one prospect in the NHL in his midseason rankings. In his preseason rankings, he ranked Hughes seventh. (from ‘2018-19 midseason NHL prospects ranking’, The AthleticNHL – 1/15/19)
In an interview with Dan Riccio and Randip Janda on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver, Pronman said what Hughes can do with the puck on his stick is what makes him elite.
“When you watch, you see he can do something special on the ice. There’s a unique aspect to how he plays the game,” Pronman said. “His passes are crisp, he’s always activating for the rush, he thinks the game at a higher level. He’s a small defenseman and you worry how he’s going to defend in the NHL, but when he has the puck, he makes special things happen.”
3️⃣ assists for Quinn Hughes today = 🍏🍎🍏
1️⃣ helper so nice, you won't believe it = 👀🔥😱 pic.twitter.com/IcDp8ZQq07
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) August 3, 2018
The third assist in the highlight package above is a clear example of what makes Hughes special. Most defensemen in that situation would either take a shot from the point or go “D-to-D.” Instead, Hughes attacks Marcus Sylvegard, the forward covering him at the point.
After Hughes makes Sylvegard look silly, both Linus Karlsson (25) and Nils Lundkvist (7) try to prevent him from shooting from the slot, and Hughes is able to reach around the stick of Karlsson and make a pass to Josh Norris, who has an empty net to shoot at. Let’s also not forget Hughes pulled this off with five seconds remaining in overtime.
— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) January 12, 2019
The next example of exemplary creativity can be seen at the 1:02 mark of the highlights above. Hughes enters the offensive zone on his off-wing — a left shot coming down the right side. He first backhands the puck so that it’s under the stick of the Ohio State Buckeyes defender and then he quickly slides it in the opposite direction, completing the patented inside-outside deke.
Hughes is so quick and shifty that when the defenseman tries to turn to take the body and forget about the puck, he falls down and tries to hold Hughes’ stick. It takes a solid second effort from Hughes to get his stick free and make a pass to teammate Nick Pastujov (91), all while another Buckeyes player is quickly approaching.
Other than Hughes’ creativity with the puck, it’s his skating ability that helps separate him from the rest of the pack. Not just his overall speed, but his edge work too, which is what allows him to attack defenders so often. His ability to spin or turn on a dime also means he’s able to relieve pressure when forecheckers attack. That means breaking out of his own zone is no problem.
Hughes Likely to Turn Pro After Sophomore NCAA Season
For the Michigan Wolverines this season, Hughes has recorded three goals and 19 assists for 22 points in 19 games. Those 22 points are tied for fifth-most in the entire NCAA for defensemen. As a freshman last season, Hughes had 29 points in 37 games. Pronman said there was a joke among scouts at World Juniors that if Hughes stepped into the Canucks lineup right then and there, he could help their ailing power play.
“I do think at the beginning of next season that he will be a guy who will play right away,” Pronman said. “I don’t know if you can expect Elias Pettersson impact on day one — I think it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to do that so quickly — but I do think he can be potentially a top-four defenseman right away. The way he can impact a shift just with his skating and his skill, that’s going to translate.”
Hughes Named Top-10 Prospect by TSN
Hughes was also ranked eighth on TSN’s annual list of the top-50 NHL-affiliated prospects, compiled by TSN’s director of scouting Craig Button. He is the second-highest defenseman on the list, behind Colorado Avalanche draft pick Cale Makar, who is ranked third overall.
Other Canucks to make the top-50 on Button’s list are center Adam Gaudette (41st) and goaltender Thatcher Demko (46th), who was recently recalled from the Utica Comets in the AHL. The top spot went to Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov, a New York Rangers prospect, while the second overall spot went to Florida Panthers pick Grigori Denisenko.
Nathan Kanter covers the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers. He received his master’s in journalism from Western University in May of 2015 before serving as the first ever Digital Managing Editor at Western’s university newspaper, The Western Gazette, in 2015-16. From 2016-18, he served as the radio play-by-play voice of the Battlefords North Stars in the SJHL. His work has been published in The Hockey News, at Sportsnet.ca and at Dobber Prospects.