Most kids his age are finishing up a college semester and preparing to embark on a summer of tanning, relaxing and working a summer job. Quinn Hughes? He’s preparing to play for his fourth team of the year.
It’s been a whirlwind season for Hughes. The 19-year-old spent most of the 2018-19 campaign as one of the NCAA’s top defensemen with the University of Michigan, his play earning him a place among the Hobey Baker Award finalists, as well as spots on the Big Ten Conference and NCAA West all-star teams. Additionally, his season was broken up by a few weeks as an alternate captain with an American team that fell to Finland in the World Junior Championship final and capped off with a five-game stint with the Vancouver Canucks.
Hughes believes the hectic season has been of great benefit to his game, though. “It’s not only on the ice but off the ice, I’d say I grew,” he said. “You know, if it’s the details in practice or stuff like that. I feel another year of growing up and another year more maturity have helped me, translating on the ice. I think my game got better as a whole throughout the year.”
And his opportunities for on-ice growth aren’t over. For the second consecutive year, Hughes is off to the World Championship. This time around, though, he’s not Team USA’s youngest player. Quinn’s 17-year-old brother, Jack, will debut for the national men’s team, making him the youngest player to ever represent the United States at the tournament. It’s an experience Quinn sees as one that will benefit his brother. “This tournament got me ready for (the NHL),” he said. “Because I went last year and that was really good for me mentally to play with pro guys and practice with pro guys and coaches.”
Speaking of Jack, the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, it’s the second time the brothers will represent the United States at the same tournament, and the second time this season after they skated together at the world juniors. But with Jack expected to be made the top choice by the New Jersey Devils, who won the NHL’s draft lottery, and Quinn signed on with Vancouver, he knows his chances to play with his brother will be limited going forward. “It’s going to be really cool,” he said. “Obviously, you never know when you’re going to get these opportunities. So, I’m really excited.”
Like his younger sibling, the elder Hughes was somewhat of a surprise addition to Team USA’s group last season, particularly as every other roster player had seen NHL action leading up to the tournament. Hughes, on the other hand, was an NCAA freshman, though you wouldn’t have known from his performance. He was lauded for his ability to keep up with the pace, and the American coaching staff wasn’t afraid to deploy him in tough matchups in his first real action against top-end talent.
On paper, the U.S.’s roster is noticeably stronger than in the past. A group that has generally been built around fringe NHLers and NCAA players is instead populated by some big-time hockey stars, including Alex DeBrincat, Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau. Superstar scorer Patrick Kane will captain the club.
For Hughes, however, it’s not the strength of the roster that makes him excited about returning to the tournament. “Anytime you get a chance to represent your country, whenever you’re asked, I think you should go or definitely think about going,” Hughes said. “That’s what I did. I didn’t even know (Jack) was going when I signed up because I signed up a month ago, or maybe even longer than that.”
It won’t be long until Hughes is playing top-pairing minutes for the rebuilding Canucks. But for now, he sees the tournament as an important learning experience. “Having the confidence that you can play (in the NHL) makes it easier coming here,” Hughes said. “Because I think I thought I was pretty good at this tournament last year. So, for me, it’s to build and try to be better than I was last year.”
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