ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver on June 21-22. Forward Jack Hughes is the No. 1-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the fourth and 16th overall selections in the first round of the draft.
Jack Hughes had a unique upbringing that helped the left-shooting forward develop skills that have dominated the competition the past two seasons.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound center finished his tenure with the United States National Team Development Program as its all-time leader in scoring after he recorded an impressive 228 points (74 goals and 154 assists) in 110 games from 2017 to 2019.
Hughes' impressive skills have brought high praise for an 18-year-old that has not played a minute of professional hockey. However, he has proven that he is deserving of the attention.
Born in Orlando, Florida, Hughes was exposed to hockey from birth by his American parents Jim and Ellen. His parents were well-versed in the hockey world, as Jim is a former coach and executive while Ellen played collegiately at the University of New Hampshire and won a silver medal on the USA squad at the 1992 Women's World Championship.
Jim was finishing up his position as an assistant coach with the Orlando Solar Bears of the International Hockey League at the time of Jack's birth on May 14, 2001, but the family soon relocated to Boston when Jim took an assistant coaching job with the Bruins. Two years later, the family moved to New Hampshire when Jim began a three-year stint with the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs that featured two seasons as an assistant and one as the head coach.
Finally in 2006, the Hughes family settled down in Toronto where Jim became an assistant for the Maple Leafs' AHL team, the Toronto Marlies, and later the Leafs' director of player development.
Toronto was where Jack started to find his passion for hockey. He played not only on local outdoor rinks but also in his basement with older brother and current Vancouver Canucks forward Quinn Hughes.
"Hockey was in my blood, I think I was born to be a hockey player. I spent so many hours skating and playing mini-sticks, I think it was just meant to be," Hughes said in an interview with NHL.com.
Video: Hughes speaks about busy week at Scouting Combine
While he is known to be an extremely well-rounded player, Hughes is often credited for his skating abilities that can be traced back to his parents who had their sons on the ice before they were the age of 2.
Ellen stressed the importance of technique while Jim focused his attention on the importance of generating power on edges.
"We were always massive proponents of two hands on the stick, so they're pushing with their lower body following their stick, and their shoulders were in the right direction when they were turning," Ellen said to NHL.com.
"They wore protection so that everything could be done at full speed. That's what got them to trust their balance in getting the weight from one leg to the other without worrying about getting hurt."
Jack and Quinn also have a younger brother, Luke, who completes the Hughes family's hockey trifecta. Luke is currently a defenseman for the NTDP and could also be a first-round selection in the 2021 draft. If that were to happen, the result would be a historic achievement as no American family has ever had three brothers selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.
In 2017, the Hughes family moved to Michigan and Jack faced one of the biggest decisions in his young career, play major junior in Canada or keep his NCAA eligibility. Instead of playing for the Mississauga Steelheads in the Ontario Hockey League, Jack chose to take after Quinn and further his skills by playing for the U.S. NTDP in Plymouth, Michigan.
In Hughes' two seasons with the NTDP, the center set major milestone records. This past season alone, he totaled 34 goals and 78 assists in 50 total contests while captaining the under-18 squad. In 24 United States Hockey League games, Hughes recorded 48 points (12 goals and 36 assists).
Video: Hughes on catching up with peers at Scouting Combine
During his time in Plymouth, Hughes also competed internationally as he skated for Team USA at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, IIHF U18 World Championship twice, IIHF World Junior Championship (under 20) and IIHF Men's World Championship.
He played in each of the latter three tournaments this past season, beginning with earning a silver medal at the World Juniors in December and January. Not only was he the youngest player on the under-20 team, but Hughes was also ranked eighth among all tournament skaters with four assists in four games.
In April, he accompanied 20 of his NTDP teammates at the U18 World Championship in Sweden and finished with a tournament-high 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) and a bronze medal after the Americans defeated Canada in the third-place game. Hughes set a tournament record with 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) in 14 games over the course of two years at the event (2018, 2019).
A month later, Hughes spent his 18th birthday playing with the men of Team USA at the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. He even made history by becoming the youngest U.S. player ever at the event. Averaging 13:52 of ice time, Hughes tallied three assists in seven contests.
USA Hockey assistant executive director of hockey operations and former NHL goalie John Vanbiesbrouck said Hughes is one of the most courageous players he's ever seen.
"The way he can create speed through the neutral zone, enter the zone at top speed and make decisions at that speed... I don't want to get into player comparisons, but he has a unique ability to weave and see things that few can," Vanbiesbrouck said to NHL.com. "I've seen him take the puck in between big players and get to the front of the net; he's not afraid."
When asked about potentially becoming the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, Hughes told NHL.com that "it'd be a dream come true. I want to be the first player chosen and be the best player in the draft. I feel like I'm in a good position. I think every kid that's draft eligible and whoever thought about the draft, wants to go as high as he can and wants to be the No. 1 kid chosen."