Luke Hughes will be part of history if selected in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Never has a family from the United States had three brothers chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft, but the left-shot defenseman likely will change that.
Hughes, No. 4 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, is the younger brother of Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes.
Quinn, 21, selected No. 7 by the Canucks in the 2018 NHL Draft, is 19 months older than Jack, 20. Jack, chosen No. 1 by the Devils in the 2019 NHL Draft, is 28 months older than Luke, who is 17.
Born on Sept. 9, 2003, Luke is the youngest United States-born player eligible for the 2021 draft and six days shy of not being first-year eligible until the 2022 NHL Draft.
“I think it would be super special,” Luke said. “I mean, three brothers in the first round … that’s amazing. The three of us put in the work and are really dedicated to the sport, so if it happens it would be really exciting not just for us but our parents. They’ve done an unbelievable job raising us, not just as players but as people. It’d be a great accomplishment for my entire family and pretty cool.”
The first round of the draft is July 23 (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW). Rounds 2-7 will be July 24 (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, SN NOW).
Quinn and Jack anticipate hearing Luke’s name called early in the first round.
“I think Luke’s got so much raw potential, his skating is so good and his hands … he’s big and skates like (Dallas Stars defenseman)Miro Heiskanen but he’s got my offensive mindset,” Quinn said. “I think when he’s 20 or 21 years old, he’s going to be an absolute beast.”
Luke (6-foot-2, 184 pounds) scored 34 points (six goals, 28 assists) in 38 games with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team and is the second-highest North American defenseman ranked by Central Scouting, behind Owen Power of the University of Michigan, who is No. 1 among all North American skaters.
Hughes sustained a season-ending laceration of a tendon in his foot March 7. He had surgery March 17 to repair the injury and has been skating since May, and is committed to play at Michigan next season.
“To me, the runway (for Luke) is there and the upside is almost limitless,” Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said. “When you put together the whole package of his size, skill and IQ, there’s potential that he’ll be the best of the Hughes brothers. But he could be the best of this draft too. He has that kind of ability and upside.
“This is a player I think would have really made some people start asking questions (about who should be drafted No. 1) if he had been able to finish the year.”
Luke could join Jack if selected No. 4 by the Devils. The Canucks have the No. 9 pick in the first round.
“It would be unbelievable to go to the Devils,” Luke said. “My brother clearly wants me to be there. That’d be super cool to play with him, and I’d love that. But at the same time, there’s 32 great teams out there, and I’d be happy to go to go to any one of those teams.”
The Devils need elite-level defensemen in the pipeline. They have finished no higher than 25th in the NHL in goals-against average the past three seasons (3.38 in 2020-21, tied for 27th with the Ottawa Senators; 3.25 in 2019-20, tied for 28th with the Florida Panthers; 3.30 in 2018-19, 25th). Luke said he has already had discussions with New Jersey.
“I think they’ve been pretty good conversations,” he said. “I’ve been to the rink, I know the franchise pretty well, Jack loves it in New Jersey. It’s a really cool rink, really cool fan base. That would certainly be exciting, but like I said, there’s 32 great teams out there.”
Jack said he doesn’t believe he’ll need to provide much convincing if his brother is available at No. 4.
“I’d want to take him, and I’m not shy about saying that,” Jack said. “But at the end of the day Luke’s going to find his way. He’s a great player and I’d love to have him in New Jersey. But if it doesn’t work out I know he’ll be successful wherever he goes.”
Luke proved he could overcome adversity this season, and he has his brothers to thank for that.
“Luke had to fight and clutch and grab for everything; they never gave him a break,” said Ellen Hughes, his mother. “There was no, ‘You’re the youngest, so give him a break.’ I can remember when they were little, I would have to go down to the basement and ask Quinn and Jack, ‘Can you just get Luke out of the net and let him have some puck time? Let him touch the puck.'”
Luke didn’t mind being the third wheel in family hockey games. Any opportunity to learn from older minds always was a positive experience.
“Growing up playing against older players and competing against older guys, no matter what it was, whether it’s on an outdoor rink or in the basement playing mini-sticks, I thought it was a huge benefit for me because I’m just a young kid,” Luke said. “Playing with kids 2-4 years older than me was huge just for my childhood development. I think it was great being a third child.”
Quinn usually teamed with Luke when the brothers and their friends got together.
“Luke was like a meathead when we played mini-sticks and road hockey; he was so competitive and he hated losing to us,” Quinn said. “He hated losing probably more than me and Jack did. When we played it would be me and Luke against Jack and one of his buddies and I’d tell Luke to go hit Jack and then just get the puck back to me. So Luke would run Jack and run his buddy too. He was a little crazy, but it was funny.”
In addition to being competitive, Luke’s also the tallest of the Hughes siblings. His size and skating make him that much more of an intriguing option in this draft class.
His height also gave him a distinct advantage in family basketball games against Quinn (5-10, 180) and Jack (5-11, 176).
“Me and him haven’t played basketball in a year and a half now because it got to a point where we would play and then we wouldn’t talk for three days because we’d get into a massive fight,” Quinn said. “It just wasn’t worth it, so we don’t play anymore.
“Both grandfathers on each side are 6-foot-1, and my cousins would always ask, ‘Who’s getting the Pop gene?’ because we call my grandfather Pop. For a while everyone thought I was going to get it, but then Luke shot up, so that was that.”
Jack said, “You’re dealing with a completely different player. He’s got the skating, he’s got the smarts that Quinn has, but this kid is big … he’s not the normal Hughes. It’s going to be a different defenseman than Vancouver has with Quinn. He’s going to be huge in shutting guys down, being offensive. I’m excited to see where Luke will go.”
It’s one thing to have the height, but Luke showed this season he knew how best to use it.
“I think being tall and having such a long stick has really added to my game,” he said. “I got a couple more inches to poke a puck. Then just the way you can use your size to your advantage, closing people off, squeezing them down the boards and stuff like that. I think there’s a lot of different ways you can use your height. I’m still learning; I have to fill into my body.”
Hughes also spent a lot of the season playing on the right side, showcasing his versatility. He scored seven points (one goal, six assists) in his first 13 games but finished with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in his last 25 games.
“He can take two strides and I have to take eight to catch up with him,” said NTDP forward Redmond Savage, No. 54 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters. “When you have someone like him driving the offense, it was great for our guys to be able to ride off him.”
Jim Hughes, Luke’s father, spent hours with each of his sons, teaching and perfecting the art of skating and explaining how to propel up ice out of turns by using their edges. He sees Luke’s skating stride the same as Quinn’s.
“Being how tall he is, his reach, and the way he skates … guys can’t keep up with him, especially on the offensive blue line,” Quinn said. “I’ve seen him show a guy like he’s going backhand and he’ll go forehand, and it happens so quick. When he’s able to perfect that, guys at the NHL level won’t be able to guard or defend him. He’s got good skill and is learning how to play his game.
“You’ll probably see him soon at the highest level.”
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