By any definition, defenseman Luke Hughes is having a great freshman season at the University of Michigan. The fourth overall pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2021 draft has put up nearly a point per game for the Wolverines while helping the program to first place in the Big Ten conference and a No. 3 ranking in the nation. Not bad for a kid who has only been on campus for a few months.
"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."
The best version of Hughes is pretty electric. Needless to say he's got offense to his game and the ability to quarterback a power play, but the essentials of the teen's strength comes down to his incredible skating. That mobility allows him to transition and carry the puck up the ice, while also putting him in a great position to defend with his stick when the other side has possession.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 186 pounds, Hughes will naturally get stronger as time goes on, but playing against older, heavier college competition - where some of his opponents can be five years older with a lot more gym time under their belt - hasn't seemed to faze him. The fact Hughes came through USA Hockey's National Team Development Program certainly helped as the NTDP's under-18 season includes some NCAA opponents. Last year's slate was more abridged due to the pandemic, but the kids still got to face off against Division 1 programs such as Bowling Green, Air Force and Arizona State (and winning four out of five against said opponents). So Hughes had an idea of what was coming when he suited up for Michigan.
"I was lucky enough to play a couple college games last season, which taught me about the physicality and playing against older guys - I knew that going into the year," he said. "You just try to get better over the summer and every day and that helps. Watching film on teams to see what is coming at you, that helps too."
Not only does Hughes like to scout out the competition, but he also makes sure to watch his own shifts after a game, dissecting both the good and the bad for future improvement. So far, it's clearly working and along with his solid role with Michigan, it wouldn't be surprising to see Hughes back in a Team USA jersey over the holidays as part of the world junior team. Even as a 2003 birth year looking to join a team that will rely on 2002s, Hughes has the elite skills necessary to be an important part of the squad, which is looking to win back-to-back gold medals for the first time ever.
If Hughes makes the team, he'll be the third brother in his family to do so. But if he wins gold he'd be the first, as Quinn owns silver and bronze medals while Jack has a silver. Whatever the result, it's pretty clear Luke has a bright future just like his siblings. And if he can help Team USA win gold or get Michigan a national title this spring, he'll actually have something a little extra on them. Not bad for a little brother (who also happens to be the biggest of the three).