Rising sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes is poised for another season of growth with the Michigan hockey team. Allison Engkvist/Daily.  Buy this photo.

PLYMOUTH, Mich — After an incredible season that ended in Big Ten second-team honors and a conference Co-Freshman of the Year award, it seemed as though sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes had nothing more to prove at the collegiate level.

Yet even with the advancement of multiple teammates to the NHL level, Hughes has decided to continue making his mark on the NCAA — this time with a drastically different Wolverines team.

“I’m really excited for it,” Hughes said. “I’m really excited … to be a big impact player on this team.”

Hughes welcomes the void left by his former teammates, including former Michigan forward Matty Beniers who won’t skate with Team USA in the 2022 World Junior Championship next month. As the Americans gear up for August’s 2022 World Junior Championship and Michigan nears its first exhibition game against Windsor on Oct. 1, Hughes projects to play a leading role for both squads.

And in order to step into that role, Hughes has put in nonstop work this offseason.

Shortly after Michigan’s season ended in April, Hughes joined Team USA for the 2022 IIHF World Championship in Finland in May. Hughes put up four points in 10 games and helped Team USA knock off top-seeded Switzerland, but the Americans failed to medal.  

And as one of the top defensemen in his age group,  Hughes still appreciates the experience that playing on the world stage brings, both in the World Championship and at World Juniors. 

And it’s clear that Hughes has been able to especially hone in on the physical side of his game during his time away from Yost. Hughes reported he added eight to 10 pounds of muscle to his frame, and he showed off that extra strength the past two days during USA Hockey’s national junior evaluation camp practices.

But even while putting in work during the offseason, Hughes also recognizes the opportunity that another season at Michigan brings for his career with the New Jersey Devils in the NHL. It’s something he’s seen before.

“There’s so many guys that do this — Zach Werenski and my brother Quinn,” Luke said. “… But watching (Quinn) go to Michigan those two years and how he developed that second year under (Michigan coach) Mel (Pearson), getting extra lifts in and really getting strong that year and getting better

“… It was a really good year for (Quinn) and it really prepared him for the NHL.”

But for right now, Luke’s immediate focus is on taking it one game at a time with Team USA at the World Junior Championship, then joining Michigan to one-up last season’s success.

“I think everyone’s goal is to win a national championship,” Luke said. “I really want to do that, but (it) starts with getting on campus and going game by game.”

And game by game, his development into an elite defenseman is expected to continue.