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NHL Draft

Hughes earning attention with poise, hockey IQ

University of Michigan defenseman's intelligence has made him top 2018 NHL Draft prospect

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

University of Michigan freshman defenseman Quintin Hughes has decided to major in sports management, with one possible career path leading him to becoming an NHL general manager.

The interest there comes from watching his father, Jim Hughes, who was director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2009-15 and is the director of player development for CAA Sports' hockey division.

"It's something I've been interested in for a while," Hughes said. "My dad worked for the Leafs for a couple years and he's been working in hockey. See what he's done and that's where I got it from."

However, the way Hughes can dominate a game with his skating and puck skills, it might be a while until the top 2018 NHL Draft prospect puts his education to use.

Hughes scored the winning goal in his first college game, a 3-1 victory against St. Lawrence on Oct. 6, and has four shots on goal in two games.

"His hockey sense, his hockey IQ, I think is the thing that strikes you right off the bat," Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. "I've been around a lot of hockey payers, guys who have played at the highest level, but his sense of the game and his poise and patience for such a young player … his first two games, he's out against 24-, 25-year-guys, and he's 17 and he can handle it."

Hughes, who turned 18 on Saturday, rarely has looked out of place against older competition. Last season, as a 17-year-old with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team, he led U.S. defensemen with 53 points (10 goals, 43 assists) in 65 games and helped it win the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with five points (goal, four assists) in seven games.

Then he was one of three first-time 2018 draft-eligible players to take part in 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase in August. In one of the first steps toward picking the team that will play for the U.S. at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, he had five points (two goals, three assists) in five games against Canada, Finland and Sweden, and impressed U.S. WJC coach Bob Motzko.

"The snapshot we have from this week, we're very excited," Motzko said during the WJSS. "Pretty impressive with the poise he has with the puck. Absolutely fearless. There's ice in his veins."

Hughes also played in the 2017 USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo in September and earned an A rating from NHL Central Scouting in its preliminary players to watch list.

"Quintin is a smooth-skating, mobile defenseman," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "He carries the puck very well and can transition from defense to offense with his feet or by making a pass. He reads the play very well and lets things develop to make a play. He uses good positioning and use of his angles to defend. Projects to be a top-four defenseman in today's game because his skating and puck skills allow him to possess the puck and dictate the play."

Hughes credits his ability with the puck to his time as a forward, a position he played until being moved to defense when he was 13.

"As a forward you have the puck a lot when you're younger," he said. "When you transition to [defense] the puck skills are still there. I think that definitely helped."

Pearson said an early highlight for him was a pass Hughes made during a 3-0 loss to Clarkson the day after his game-winner against St. Lawrence.

"No. 1, most guys wouldn't even see the pass let alone try it," he said. "No. 2, he throws it, a backhand saucer across a zone and a half right on the guy's tape. When you watch the tape back, he's not even looking at the guy. He doesn't give away where he's passing so you're wondering where the [heck] is he even seeing this option? So he makes the pass. He just does things that you just go 'Wow.' He's got some terrific skills and he's got some God-given talent."

At 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, Hughes uses his talent and hockey sense to excel in the defensive zone as well.

"What helps him there is just he's so smart," Pearson said. "He very rarely puts himself in a bad position so he can defend with his stick or his positioning. He's going to lose some of those battles just because of the strength factor. But because he's so smart … he just very rarely puts himself in a real bad position to get outmuscled."

NHL scouts also don't appear concerned.

"I think he has good hockey strength for his size," a scout from an Eastern Conference team said. "Not so much height and weight, it's his hockey sense and he's got good strength. He's such a prolific skater, he's able to escape a lot of pressure."

Hughes escapes pressure off the ice just as easily. He said the extra eyes focused on him isn't a concern. That's also something he's learned from his father, who he said has been a huge influence on him on and off the ice.

"I don't think it's a lot of stress," he said. "Go out, have fun, play your game and it'll take care of the rest. The more you're thinking about stuff on the ice and playing your game, I think that helps more than worrying about who's in the stands."

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