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Hughes confident he can play for Canucks this season

Defenseman has 'elite' skating level, needs to improve strength

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Quintin Hughes believes he is ready to play for the Vancouver Canucks.

Hughes, who was selected by the Canucks with the No. 7 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, possesses a strong skating ability and puck skills and was the youngest player at the 2018 IIHF World Championship, where he had two assists in 10 games, winning a bronze medal with the United States. Combine that experience with the comfort from skating with NHL players like John Tavares and Connor McDavid at Power Edge Pro summer camps in Toronto, and it's no wonder Hughes feels good about making the NHL.

"Playing against those guys built my confidence," Hughes said. "But I had a lot going in.

"I am a pretty confident kid and I am very confident in my abilities so obviously I want to believe I can play in the NHL. But I know it's a really hard League. It's the best League in the world and not a lot of 18-year-olds come in, especially defensemen, and play."

The Canucks think Hughes can be one of those players and general manager Jim Benning said on the eve of the team's development camp he would like to sign Hughes this summer.

"I feel he is an NHL skater already," Benning said. "He is still going to have to put in some work this summer to get physically stronger to play at the NHL level, but how smart he is and what a great skater he is, I think he has a chance."

Video: Canucks draft D Quintin Hughes No. 7

Canucks director of player development Ryan Johnson isn't worried about Hughes' (5-foot-10, 173 pounds) strength.

"I don't think he's as far off," Johnson said. "Obviously, we want him to get stronger, but the way he plays the game and the hockey sense he has, he is not a player we need to bulk up. There will be some things we will work on the defensive side of the game, but the kid is incredibly willing, he's motivated and he's a sponge to anything that we are going to throw at him."

Johnson saw Hughes a lot last season while watching University of Michigan teammate William Lockwood, who was selected by the Canucks in the third round (No. 64) in the 2016 NHL Draft. As the youngest player in NCAA, Hughes had 29 points (five goals, 24 assists) in 37 games, setting a school record for assists by a freshman defenseman as Michigan advanced to the Frozen Four.

"He changes the course of a game because he's got an elite, elite level of skating," Johnson said.

That skating also helps Hughes, who turns 19 on Oct. 14, overcome defensive concerns based on his size.

"It's something I have tried to work on because I know people try to pick at it," Hughes said.

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