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Sport NHL Draft 2018: Quinn Hughes 'as valuable as anyone' playing a style his own

19:02  14 june  2018
19:02  14 june  2018 Source:   sportingnews.com

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The way Hughes plays his position is unlike anything evaluators have ever seen before. To call his style unique may not be such a stretch. Play is getting faster, having already trended into a speed game , and players of Hughes ’ ilk are valuable commodities, crown jewels teams are lucky to mine.

The way Hughes plays his position is unlike anything evaluators have ever seen before. To call his style unique may not be such a stretch. Play is getting faster, having already trended into a speed game , and players of Hughes ’ ilk are valuable commodities, crown jewels teams are lucky to mine.

a man in a baseball uniform: Quinn Hughes© (Getty Images) Quinn Hughes

WASHINGTON — For John Wreblowski, it wasn’t one moment, but two, that solidified every premonition he had about then 17-year-old defenseman Quinn Hughes.

The first came in October. Wreblowski was the coach of the U.S. National Development Team Program, Hughes one of his players. The collection of American-born standouts had begun its schedule competing with USHL and NCAA teams, but was struggling against the latter.

“We hadn’t won a college game yet. In fact, hadn’t had a sniff in any of the college games,” Wreblowski told Sporting News in a recent phone interview.

Next on the schedule was Minnesota-Duluth, ranked No. 2 nationally with a talented, deep and big group of forwards like Alex Iafallo, now with the Los Angeles Kings, and Riley Tufte of the Dallas Stars.

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Quinn Hughes plays his position unlike anything we've seen before, and is one of the more intriguing 2018 draft -eligible NHL prospects.The first came in October. Wreblowski was the coach of the U.S. National Development Team Program, Hughes one of his players . The collection of American-born

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“He was just tremendous defensively in that game,” Wreblowski said of Hughes. “I mean, he’s going against 24-, 25-year-old men, stripping the puck, and breaking us out, and it was amazing to watch: Defensively, someone his size being able to manipulate a bigger, stronger player.”

About six weeks later, the NTDP squad took on the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. Across the ice was fellow 2018 top draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov.

“You had already seen flashes of it, but he was just dominant that game,” Wreblowski said. “It was the time I’d seen him really just beat the entire opposition.”

One play in particular stood out. Hughes collected the puck in his own end, and began to go coast-to-coast. He blew past one player, and then a second. By the time he reached and gained the offensive blue line, Hughes was in full gallop. As he ascended in on goal, Hughes found his defensive partner Phil Kempe undetected on the back side, and slid him the puck for an easy goal.

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A highlight montage for Quinn Hughes .., who plays Defense position with the 2017-18 Team USA U-20 squad (#2/ #6).. and with the Univ. of Michigan Wolverines Really good skater.., play -maker and controller of the puck. His assists are often more exciting than the goals.. and his ability to out-think

“He just gave us this dynamic and threw a blueprint out the door in regard to how offensive zone play is normally dictated,” Wreblowski said. “He just has that ability to transcend, and really just think on the fly. It’s truly impressive to watch.”

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Spend 10 minutes chatting with Wreblowski and it’s clear what the coach thinks of his former player. But there’s another layer to that, and in part what makes Hughes such a tantalizing prospect in the 2018 NHL Draft class, but one who is coming in with as many questions as answers.

The way Hughes plays his position is unlike anything evaluators have ever seen before. To call his style unique may not be such a stretch. Trying to draw an NHL comparable might be futile.

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“He’s going to be that type of player that young kids try to emulate — that they want to be, that they strive to be — but it’s going to be very difficult to duplicate what he does,” Wreblowski said. “With this guy, he’s another generational-type talent, and he’ll be an influence on defensemen for years to come. I truly believe that.”

That is, if Hughes is allowed to be himself.

***

It’s a little before 1 p.m., and Hughes is shepherded into a hallway in the bowels of Capital One Arena. He’s in a blue suit, the type of getup fit for an NHL game day. Puck drop between the Capitals and Golden Knights is only about eight hours away.

“It’s funny, because I’ve been seeing a lot of these guys for years,” Hughes said. To his right is another media scrum, a hoard of reporters surrounding Rasmus Dahlin, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, and the only defenseman likely to be picked ahead of Hughes. To his right, Svechnikov and Filip Zadina, two of the top-ranked North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

“It’s been cool to get to know all the guys here because they’re all high-end players,” Hughes said. “We should all have long careers.”

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It’s not hard to see where Hughes can fit into an NHL roster. Play is getting faster, having already trended into a speed game, and players of Hughes’ ilk are valuable commodities, crown jewels teams are lucky to mine.

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But where a new crop of defensemen like Charlie McAvoy, Shayne Gostisbehere and Shea Theodore like to play fast, Hughes pushes the speedometer to a different level.

“You rarely see defensemen traveling north with his just desire, and his knack for being able to get through the neutral zone,” Wreblowski said. “Usually it results in a turnover, but he’s got that — he’s going the knack — and I don’t think that’s going to go away.”

While the NHL is changing in some regards, it’s still a league of systems. And for Hughes, there’s always been a question of whether a coaching staff will truly let him roam free, playing the type of game that has allowed him to get to the point. Or will they saddle him up, rein him in and put shackles on a style that is different than virtually anything that has preceded it?

"They know that the game is translating to what I bring a bit,” Hughes said. “Some teams asked me about my defensive game, some teams think it’s really good.

“I feel confident with my game and how it was over there, so there aren’t any doubts or questions at this points. But still lots to improve on for sure."

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His father, Jim, played at Providence College, and his mother, Ellen, skated for the University of New Hampshire. His uncle Marty starred at Boston College. And Jack Hughes might not even be the best player in the family right now. His older brother, Quinn , also an NTDP alum, was a standout

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If teams drafting in the top 10, where Hughes is projected to go, had questions about that defensive game, then his past month in Denmark probably helped. Hughes joined Team USA at the 2018 IIHF World Championship. In a tournament flush with current NHL stars, he didn't look out of place.

"You never know how you’re going to do," Hughes said. "Obviously I’m a pretty confident kid so I thought I was going to fit in, but you never know. But like I said, I was really happy, and I’m comfortable with where my game is at right now. It was a good gage for me to see how far away or close I was to the pro guys."

Likewise, Hughes felt USA coach Jeff Blashill was comfortable with what he got out of the teenager on the blue line. And it was a bonus of sorts for Blashill, who doubles as a coach of the Red Wings, as an extended period to evaluate Hughes up close and in person. Detroit holds the sixth pick in the draft, firmly in the range Hughes is projected to be selected. Hughes also played his home games for Michigan last year at Yost Ice Arena, 40 miles east of the Red Wings' rink.

“He’s done a good job of learning the things that he’s gotten away with at the college level that he’s not going to get away with here,” Blashill told Craig Custance of The Athletic during the World Championship . “That’s going to be the most important thing for his development — learning. Can he learn to think a step ahead of the puck before he gets the puck? That’s the biggest thing.”

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This is all in a prism some of the biggest questions facing the next phase of Hughes' career. Jumping into the play and making mistakes can leave your team exposed defensively. It's the type of thing that can quickly get you out of a coach's good graces, and strip away the trust factor.

But those moments for Wreblowski were few and far between.

"The young man has just such a knack for when to pick his spots," he said. "His success rate when he’s traveling north, whether he’s throwing a pass to a strong-side winger or jumping through, or even throwing it off the boards to himself and then having the puck continue to advance in a predictable fashion is impeccable. There might be a time and a place where that doesn’t happen, and then a coach is going to have to reign him in a little bit but I don’t think it’s going to happen."

Wreblowski also said that when Hughes did make a mistake, he always had the same recourse.

"When he makes a mistake, my thing with Quinn is, the more you play him, the better he is," he said. "If you put him out and he makes a mistake, well, get him right back out there and he’s going to make up for it. Just keep playing him and keep playing him, and eventually it’s going to reap rewards for you, and he’s going to take over the game."

All of this begs the question (which was posed to Wreblowski): If Hughes is this dominant, this much of a game-changing talent, why isn't he higher in mock drafts, and why isn't he mentioned in the same breath as Dahlin?

"I've never seen Rasmus play so it would be tough for me to comment there," Wreblowski texted back. "But yes I think Hughes will be as valuable as anyone."

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