Quinn Hughes, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Position: Left Defense
Age on Draft Day: 18.70 Years Old
Height/Weight: 5’10, 174 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (Including Playoffs): 37 GP, 5 G, 24 A, 26 PIM, +14
NHL Central Scouting: 6th (North American Skaters)
HockeyProspect.com (March): 7th
ISS Hockey: 7th
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 9th
Craig Button (TSN) (March): 12th
Hughes made a name for himself with the US National Development Team in 2016-2017 after putting up unprecedented numbers in the USHL for a player two years removed from the draft. Still, there were valid questions concerning just how much that would translate against superior competition; both in terms of better players as well as better coached five-man units. Hughes answered those questions during his freshman season at University of Michigan with 29 points in 37 games. In particular, he produced 15 points in his final 15 games. Scouts love to see a player get better as the season goes on, and for Hughes it meant that he elevated his play as the games got more important. Here is his production compared to the three other marquee defensemen to play in the NCAA at 17.
To be clear, the inclusion of this chart is not for the purpose of implying how Hughes will fair in the NHL compared to those three. It’s simply to show the quality of Hughes’ freshman season after making a major jump into a significantly better league. Hughes is one of the oldest prospects eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft; he missed the cutoff for the 2017 Draft by 29 days. That’s an important point to consider when putting his production in context; particularly compared to Zach Werenski’s.
However, even against “true” freshman who began their college careers after being draft eligible, Hughes stacks up well. Here he is compared to those over the last 25 seasons.
As the data shows, Hughes is an assist machine. That ability starts in the defensive zone. Hughes is the best defenseman in the draft at carrying the puck.
This has a bigger effect on the game than just assists, as he is a major driver of play. The ability to create possessed zone exits and zone entries is a pretty basic, though crucial, aspect of keeping the puck out of your defensive end and putting pressure on the other team with offensive zone time. Furthermore, the ability to consistently obtain controlled possession in the offensive zone is what makes or breaks a good power play.
As the video shows, Hughes is a one-man zone exit and entry machine. He is arguably the best skater the draft has seen since Connor McDavid. He takes so much of a burden off of the coaching staff because he’s able spontaneously to do by himself what often requires a set play involving two or three players. Will it be harder at the NHL level? Yes, of course. Even at the top level, though, he shouldn’t have much of a problem slicing and dicing through the neutral zone.
Inside the offensive zone, Hughes is equally proficient. He’s a point guard, in a sense. He moves well laterally and will hold the puck for long spurts as plays develop. He’s elusive and the puck sticks to him like glue, so opposing players have an incredible tough time stopping him from darting into open areas of the offensive zone and creating plays. He is a phenomenal passer of the puck, creating the lateral and diagonal passes through bodies that create high-caliber scoring chances. Nobody will mistake him to be a trigger man, but he has a good enough shot from the point that he’ll keep the opposition honest and score a handful of goals himself.
In a sport that so often molds risk-adverse players, Hughes is absolutely fearless and will not hesitate to try to make big plays. Like any offensive defenseman, he makes mistakes. Even still, the ratio of positive/negative outcomes is very much in his favor. He has a knack for knowing when to push the pace and try to dangle past players, or beat someone down the wing, or throw a home run pass through the neutral zone.
Now we get to the must frustrating aspect of the 2018 Draft, which is the inevitable “concerns” with Hughes’ defensive ability. He’s an offensive defenseman, and he’s small in stature. Therefore, he must be a liability defensively. The same tiresome script was applied to Erik Karlsson, Ryan Ellis, Torey Krug, Jared Spurgeon, and so on.
Yes, Hughes is not a guy you will want boxing out Wayne Simmonds or Jamie Benn above the crease. Board battles can be a problem as well, and coaches aren’t going to rush to deploy him in important penalty kill situations.
However, much of his defensive ability is not only unproblematic, but actively a positive aspect of his game. First, Hughes is a forecheck eraser. He can effortlessly transition from a back-skating stride and turn to chase dump-ins. He’ll win most races, and because his skating and vision are so elite he will either skate the puck out of danger - likely sending his team on offense in the process - or will immediately spot an open teammate for an outlet pass. Along similar lines, he is a backchecking machine. He kills off many potential odd-man rushes either by getting back in time to delay the puck carrier or to win a puck race altogether.
He is also very good at many actual “defensive” actions. He shows tremendous gap control when defending the blue line. While he’s not going to pile drive someone to the ice, he maintains great positioning and uses an active stick to close off lanes and force turnovers. He also does a quality job of recognizing plays as they’re developing and getting a stick or body into passing and shooting lanes (watch for #43 in this one example).
Hughes in the first player in our draft rankings who could plausibly fall to the Rangers at ninth overall. Even if it is unlikely. What isn’t unlikely, as other draft rankings show, is the legitimate possibility that Hughes remains up for grabs the 5-7 range. If that is the case, then it is our opinion that the Rangers should do everything they can to move up and grab him. Hughes has the ability to be an electric player in the NHL. A point-producing machine who can lead the rush as well as anyone, quarterback the power play, and play capable defensive minutes as well.
What Others Have Said
Hughes, on risk/reward and creating big plays (via Adam at Sporting News): “I’ll be the first person to tell you I’ve given up goals, but sometimes it’s not going to go your way. Ultimately, the goal of the game is to score more than the other team.”
“With Hughes on the ice last season the (Michigan) Wolverines controlled a gaudy 62 per cent of the goals at 5-on-5. Whether that number is a byproduct of his offensive or defensive contributions seems irrelevant — it’s working.”
“Ideal blueliner for the way the game is played now.”