The past year has been a wild ride for Quinn Hughes.
As the youngest player in college hockey last season, the 18-year-old freshman defenseman helped lead the Michigan hockey team — 13-game winners the season prior — to the Frozen Four, all the while wowing Wolverines fans and NHL scouts with his electrifying skating and puck-handling ability.
Soon, the ride will take him to Canada.
On Friday night in Dallas, Texas, Hughes was selected by the Vancouver Canucks with the 7th pick in the 2018 National Hockey League Draft.
Hughes is the highest Michigan draftee since defenseman Jack Johnson was taken third overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005 and is also the second defenseman chosen in this year’s draft after Rasmus Dahlin, who went to the Buffalo Sabres with the No. 1 overall selection.
Joining Hughes in attendance at the American Airlines Center was his entire family, including his brothers Jack — a candidate to be next year’s top NHL draft pick — and Luke, who recently committed to Michigan for 2022. Hughes’ parents were both hockey players as well — father Jim at Providence and mother Ellen at New Hampshire.
After Hughes was drafted, he spoke to NBCSN’s Kathryn Tappen about the impact of his mother, who taught him how to skate when he was little.
“It’s always nice to have parents that know what they’re doing,” he said. “It always makes a difference. I’m obviously grateful to both of them — my mom knows a lot about the game, like I said, I’m grateful.”
Just about every mock draft had Hughes as a top-10 pick, with the most common projections coming in the No. 4-No. 8 range. Considering his skills and production last season, these projections made sense.
Hughes’ standout trait is his skating — many outlets have called him the best pure skater in his class. Blessed with terrific speed and acceleration, he’s a terror in transition, and his puck-handling and passing allow him to quarterback an offense from the blue line effectively.
His elite skating does come with a cost — at just 5-foot-9, Hughes lacks the size many desire from a defenseman and can be outmuscled at times. But he compensates for it with superior awareness and savvy anticipation, and pairing him with a larger, more physical blue-liner — such as his partnership with Joseph Cecconi last season — neutralizes many of Hughes’ weaknesses.
Hughes’ talent culminated last season into five goals and a team-high 24 assists, as well as selections to the All-Big Ten Second Team and All-Freshman Team. After Michigan’s season came to an end, he was named to the United States national team at the World Championships as the only college player on the roster, contributing to a bronze-medal finish for the Americans.
It’s not yet clear what Hughes’ next move will be. Most analysts believe he’s in need of at least one more year of in college in order to get stronger and develop his defensive game. His performance with Team USA, however, hints that he isn’t far off from being NHL-ready.
But for now, Hughes seems to just be enjoying it all.
“Obviously, I’m very proud,” Hughes said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about Vancouver, it’s obviously a hockey market. I’m really excited, and it’s a dream come true. Honestly, I don’t know what to say right now.”