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Confident Quinn

...Canucks rookie taking it all in during World Championship

by Julie Robenhymer @JulieRobenhymer / Freelance writer

Another year older and another year wiser.

That's what Quinn Hughes says is different about him this year as he represents Team USA at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. It's his second time in as many years.

"I'm a lot more confident in my abilities and it's a lot more fun for me this time," said the 19-year-old defenceman, who signed his first professional contract with the Canucks in late March. "Last year was fun too, but it was a lot more of a learning experience and, this year, I feel like I can contribute in more ways."

Team USA head coach Jeff Blashill has noticed the difference and has rewarded Hughes with more ice time in key situations, as well as opportunities on the power play.

"He's just gotten a lot more confident. When we first saw him last year, the game didn't start for him until the puck was on his stick, but as you get up to higher levels, you've got to be aware of what you're going to do with it before you get it because things happen so fast and he's done a much better job of that this year, especially from an offensive sense, and he's earned more opportunities because of it."

After last year's tournament, Hughes felt comfortable with where his game was and that he could compete with the pro players around him, but decided to go back to Michigan for his sophomore season because he wanted to make the jump, not just when he thought he could play at the NHL level, but when he felt he was good enough to make an impact.

"There's no prize for getting to the NHL first," Hughes explained. "It's more about who can stay the longest and make the biggest difference and I wanted to be ready for my opportunity. I learned a lot here last year. In some ways, it's better than the NHL because some of these teams are like All-Star teams. If you look at Sweden's roster last year, it was like an Olympic team and I tried to take everything I learned about my game and about being a pro and work on it this past year at Michigan."

The two biggest areas of focus for the 5-foot-10, 175 pound blueliner were improving his shot and his gaining strength, and those are two areas he will continue to focus on this summer as he prepares to earn a full-time roster spot with the Canucks.

Video: Quinn Hughes NHL Debut - Behind the Scenes

"I'm not looking to gain too much weight this year. I gained five or six pounds last summer, which I think is pretty good, but I still want to get stronger, work on my shot, get more explosive, and just improve my overall skillset. I want to get better at everything - shooting, skating, everything."

Now that he's with Team USA again at the World Championship, he's hoping to learn even more.

"I've only played five NHL games and every opportunity to play against pros will help me in October," said Hughes. "I'm just looking to show more of what I can do and hopefully pick up a few more things to help me be even better and help the team win. We've done a good job so far, but we have a lot more that we want to do."

He's not just learning on the ice either. In the locker room, Hughes is sitting next to Ryan Suter, who has worn the red, white and blue in 11 IIHF tournaments, including the Olympics, and was in the same position as Hughes 14 years ago.

"That's the great thing about having veterans around," coach Blashill explained. "Now some of the young guys can learn from them and can feel comfortable talking with them. We arrange the rooms on purpose to make sure the younger guys are surrounded by veterans and I think it's actually a huge bonus for them for their careers, not just for this team. It's good for them to have role models, not just out of play, but how you prepare, how you humble yourself off the ice, all those things. So it's an important factor."

While Hughes only has three assists so far this tournament, Blashill said he's contributing in other ways and has even been one of USA's best players.

"He's a really dynamic player and it's hard to do the things that he does. He's got super, super explosive ability. I think he's done a good job so far. When he's playing his best, he's a great breakout guy, shows a lot of speed and he's joining the play. I thought he did a good job defending. He's got to be willing to continue to work on gaps and things like that, but overall, he's done a real good job for us."

As USA prepares to play Russia in the Quarterfinals on Thursday, Hughes said his experience at the World Championship has been "unbelievable" so far.

"I mean…I've played five NHL games and they were great. I learned a lot in those five games about what it takes to play in the NHL and be a pro, but there's still so much for me to learn and this is a great opportunity to just keep gaining experience and hopefully help USA win a gold medal. We've had some tough games, but we think we have a good group and we're going to do everything we can to get it done."

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