In a draft featuring a generational defenceman such as Rasmus Dahlin, it’s easy to overlook many of the other defenders in this year’s crop, especially as the hype grows bigger and bigger as the draft approaches.
However, defence could arguably be the deepest portion of the 2018 draft, with players like Quinn Hughes having gone under the radar. Hughes could easily become one of the dark horse picks of this draft, as he’s projected to become an elite defensive talent using his exceptional skating and high-end offensive vision.
Birthplace: Orlando, Florida
Date of birth: October 14, 1999
Weight: 174 lbs.
Team: University of Michigan
His skating and offensive vision led him to be arguably the most dynamic defender in the NCAA last year. This was also his first season in the NCAA, and finished third in points on the University of Michigan with 29 total points while being one of the youngest players in the league.
Coming from the prized Toronto Marlboros program, which has brought talents such as Connor McDavid, and John Tavares, he dominated the GTMMHL before joining the US National Development program in 2015-16. Having finished his time with the USDP before being draft eligible, he opted to join the Michigan Wolverines this year, helping them advance to the Frozen Four.
Hughes at first glance, has all the tools necessary to become an NHL defenceman, and a very good one as well.
He has been touted as the best skater in the draft, allowing his game to follow his fluid mobility. His skating, apart from having blistering acceleration and speed, shows fantastic agility, using elite level edge work to have high level four-way mobility. This allows him to be extremely effective on the breakout as he’s able to fool opposing players with his deceptiveness.
He isn’t hesitant with this skating ability either, as he’s often seen leading the rush, as well as getting the puck into the zone with ease. Being able to pivot on a dime is his strength as he does this, avoiding bodychecks and sticks more often than not. Despite Hughes’s small frame, he protects the puck surprisingly well with his body, allowing him to find outlet passes easily once in the offensive zone.
When caught in a tight situation, Hughes’s skating allows him to return to position without panic, even having the speed and endurance to catch an offensive player by surprise on the back check, causing more opportunity for his team.
When you add his ability to read plays, his calculated puck handling skill, and poise when under pressure, he’s a player who can control the pace of play from the back end, in either 5v5 situations, or on the man advantage.
For an offensive defenceman, his shooting ability is underrated, often using a very quick release. However, this is an area where Hughes could improve, as he’ll need more strength behind it for it to be truly effective at the NHL level.
Defensively, however, is where his game will need to improve in the long term. His mobility is an asset in his own zone as well, paired with an active stick, Hughes is effective at retrieving pucks and generating counter attacks by stripping forwards of the puck, but often gets outmuscled by bigger opponents. He may have been able to overcome that in the World Juniors and in the NCAA, but he will need to gain size and weight in order to not be pushed around in the NHL.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Future Considerations: #6
ISS Hockey: #7
Hockey Prospect: #7
NHL Central Scouting: #6
For a prospect that is seen as highly as Hughes, he’s dropped slightly in rankings as the year went along, for various reasons.
Debatably, the fantastic play of Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina have pushed him down, as they seem to be the consensus #2 and #3 in this draft, as well as the emergence of Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard as other high rated defensive prospects. However, he is still seen as just a good an option, if not better than the other two defenders, just due to his skating ability alone.
His drop in the rankings starts and ends with his size, which I’ve mentioned various times already as his biggest downfall. Net front battles and around the slot have proven to be one of his biggest weaknesses, especially as he will lose territory to larger forwards, despite his best attempts to stand his ground. Ideally, he would be paired with a partner who’s able to provide the physical style of defence to compliment his strengths.
One on one battles are a concern when it comes to Hughes, especially along the boards, especially when the game becomes tight checking and slower, he tends to be less effective than normal. He was very prone to being caught out of position, but he improved as the year went along. Playing conservative in the defensive zone is a skill that is learned over time, especially with a player that is known for being high tempo such as Hughes.
High octane, dynamic players like Hughes are hard to come by, especially when you consider that he had such a successful season in his very first NCAA season, and will only continue to grow in all aspects of his game.
For the Canadiens, it could very well be an off the board pick if they choose to go for Hughes over a player like Zadina, but it won’t be one they will regret in the long run due to the raw talent he possesses. Ideally, if the Canadiens planned to select the American defender, they would trade down one, or even two spots in the draft.
A left-handed shot, mobile defenceman with the ability to generate offence from speed alone would fit right into the Canadiens defence, and given the way a similar player in Victor Mete was given the oppertunity to play this year, you could see them do something similar with Hughes.
After losing Mikhail Sergachev this season, drafting a player of Hughes’ calibre should be an exciting concept for Canadiens fans, especially considering the lack of depth in the defensive prospect pool.
However, one must take into consideration that he might not be NHL ready by next season. More time with the Wolverines wouldn’t hurt in the slightest, and giving him the oppertunity to grow bigger and stronger is ideal for all parties. This isn’t an issue in retrospect, as not rushing his development and allowing him to find his defensive game may result in a prospect much better than we see right now.
With the third overall pick in the draft, the Canadiens have a wealth of talent players to pick from, and that may be the only reason they don’t pick Hughes. Possibly having a high end NHL ready talent in either Svechnikov or Zadina may be enough for Habs management to pass over the highly rated defenceman, but should they divert the course, Quinn Hughes is a defenceman who could shape the Montreal blue line for years to come.