Over the weekend, Quinn Hughes made the decision to return to the University of Michigan for his sophomore season. That meant he would not be turning pro with the Vancouver Canucks, but from my perspective, this was the right play all along.
Vancouver selected Hughes seventh overall in the 2018 draft and got a good one in the mobile defenseman. Hughes is tailor-made for today’s NHL game thanks to his incredible skating and puckhandling abilities. On the other hand, he’s not a very big player and right now, the college hockey lifestyle is what he needs most.
In returning to Ann Arbor, Hughes can hit the weight room often, as games are almost exclusively reserved for Fridays and Saturdays. Though Hughes will never be a physical monster, he can stand to put a bit more bulk on his 5-foot-9, 173-pound frame and that will be much easier in Michigan than it would have been in the NHL or AHL.
In terms of role, Hughes was already one of the Wolverines’ top offensive threats and now he returns with a whole summer of development, not to mention his experience with Team USA’s men’s squad at the World Championship. There, he was the youngest player on a team that won bronze. Not only did he get great experience on the ice, but he also got to hang out with Stanley Cup winners such as Patrick Kane and Alec Martinez.
Which is a long way of saying that Hughes will have an even greater impact on the Wolverines as a sophomore – and he was pretty great as a freshman. Michigan returns a good deal of talent from last year’s Frozen Four squad, including Josh Norris (San Jose), a healthy Will Lockwood (Vancouver) and Hughes’ defense partner, Joseph Cecconi (Dallas). The blueline in particular will be robust and Hughes’ job will be to wheel the puck up the ice and create offense, especially on the power play.
While signing with Vancouver would have been exciting too, it’s not like the Canucks are desperate to make the playoffs. The franchise is in the middle of a very promising rebuild and the pieces are beginning to matriculate. Bo Horvat is already a cornerstone. Brock Boeser had an excellent rookie season that was unfortunately cut short by injury. Elias Pettersson took Sweden by storm last year and is now ready for his own shot at the Calder, while Thatcher Demko still looks like the goalie of the future thanks to his work in the AHL. I’d love to see Demko get at least another start or two in the upcoming season, just to build off his NHL debut from last season. If Vancouver gets another high pick in the 2019 draft, mission accomplished.
The truly tantalizing aspect of that scenario is that the top prospect in next year’s draft is Jack Hughes, the dynamic center who also happens to be Quinn’s younger brother. Speculation and hearsay about Quinn’s Michigan vs. Vancouver decision had been pretty heavy on Twitter in the past month, but the gossiping around Jack’s 2018-19 destination was absolutely daft.
Jack, of course, just completed his first of two seasons with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, where the under-17 team star was so good that he earned his way onto the top line of the under-18 squad, centering the first line with eventual NHL first-rounders Oliver Wahlstrom (New York Islanders) and Joel Farabee (Philadelphia). Some folks speculated that he would forego his true under-18 season with the NTDP and go to Michigan with his brother, though Jack would have had to fast-track his high school course load in order to be college eligible as a 17-year-old. This can be done; Zach Werenski did it for Michigan a few years ago. But it was a hard summer for the future Columbus Blue Jackets star and his school work came right down to the wire.
Like Quinn, Jack is a smaller body and the NTDP affords players much the same weight room time as college, so staying with ‘The Program’ really was his best option. Jack’s OHL rights are owned by Mississauga and there was gossip those rights would be traded, but Jack recently confirmed he will return to the NTDP for 2018-19.
I know the summer is all about guessing, but really: Quinn at Michigan and Jack at the NTDP was the best decision for both. And if you want to see them at the same rink this year, circle Oct. 12 on your calendar: that’s when Jack’s NTDP travels to Yost Arena to play Quinn’s Wolverines.