The No. 16 Michigan hockey team may not have announced the signing of one of its most highly touted recruits, but rest assured, defenseman Quinn Hughes will be a Wolverine next year.
The 5-foot-9, 168-pound defenseman plays for the United States National Team Development Program with Josh Norris and Michael Pastujov, both of whom were recognized by Michigan for signing their National Letters of Intent last week, making the program’s silence regarding Hughes all the more notable.
But the USNTDP just so happened to be in town Friday night for its yearly exhibition against the Wolverines, and after his team’s 6-3 loss, Hughes said that he had already faxed the necessary paperwork to Ann Arbor to officially become a Wolverine. It appeared Hughes’ signing had simply slipped under the radar.
While Michigan coach Red Berenson was unable to comment on Hughes last Thursday, he was able to talk about the newest member of the program after practice Monday, and he could hardly contain his praise for Hughes.
Berenson projected Hughes as an “elite-skating, offensive-minded defenseman” at the college level and also called him one of the “top young defensemen” of his class.
“He’s really a special player, and we’re excited about the fact that he’ll bring an element to our defense that maybe we don’t have right now,” Berenson said. “He could definitely add to our power play. His smarts, his vision and his skating ability really separate him from a lot of players.”
Hughes is one of several players who signed their NLIs in the first signing period to officially join Michigan. The group includes his teammates Norris and Pastujov, as well as forwards Dakota Raabe and Gustaf Westlund, with the latter two receiving praise from Berenson as well.
Raabe, who hails from California, is currently playing his second season for the Wenatchee Wild of the British Columbia Hockey League. According to Berenson, Raabe wasn’t recruited as a younger player, but has improved enough recently to become the type of player worthy of a spot in Michigan’s class.
“I’m told Dakota is a high-end skater,” Berenson said. “He’d be one of our fastest skaters. … It looks like he’s going to be a real good addition to our forward group, and the big thing is because of his speed and work ethic.”
Westlund, who hails from Sweden, was compared by Berenson to another Swedish import on the roster.
“We think he’ll add a little bit of everything,” Berenson said. “He’ll be similar to (Adam) Winborg in that he’s good with the puck, good without the puck, he plays physical, he plays hard.”
While Westlund isn’t a certainty to join Michigan for the 2017-18 season, Berenson has been pleased with his progress playing for the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League.
“That’s a tough league,” Berenson said. “But at this point, he’s done well. So I can’t tell you 100 percent he’s coming in next year, it’s still early, but he could be coming in next year.”
While a road series against eighth-ranked Penn State looms large, Michigan still has two games left before the start of conference play. The Wolverines will take on Lake Superior State this weekend at Yost after a whirlwind non-conference schedule that has seen them travel to both the West Coast and East Coast.
Luckily for Michigan, it appears the Wolverines will head into the bulk of its schedule relatively healthy.
While defensemen Sam Piazza and Nick Boka and forward Max Shuart were all scratched in Friday’s exhibition, Berenson said it wasn’t because they were hurt.
“We gave them the night off,” Berenson said. “I wanted to get Kevin Lohan back into the lineup and Christian Meike in, so we did, and I think that was good.”
Lohan and defensemen Griffin Luce and Joe Cecconi were slightly banged-up after the exhibition, missing practice Monday, but Michigan avoided any major damage to its defense corps.
“They should be out there tomorrow, so we should be fine,” Berenson said. “I think they’ll all be ready to play (this weekend).”