It’s one thing for scouts or coaches to shower elite prospects with plaudits.
It’s another thing when it comes from a teammate. Or a competitive sibling.
Jack Hughes is expected to be the first overall selection Friday in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft at Rogers Arena because he gets it on every conceivable level.
And it’s not just the rich family sporting lineage or superlative skills that have made the electric centre a cut about his draft class.
It’s that the prize product of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program isn’t overwhelmed by what awaits. Whether surrounded by the opposition or a media mob, there’s more anticipation than angst, more excitement about what awaits than what might go wrong.
“It’s the way he carries himself,” said USNTDP winger Matthew Boldy. “If someone didn’t really know hockey, they wouldn’t think he’s going first overall because he has a really good head on his shoulders. He’s not arrogant, or anything like that.
“He doesn’t expect anything to be given to him and he earns everything. And he works really hard for it.”
It showed. Hughes leaves the USNTDP as its scoring leader after eclipsing Clayton Keller’s mark when he collected his 190th point over two seasons with the under-17 and under-18 teams. And the 5-10, 170-pound pivot also broke Alex Ovechkin’s career under-18 world championship record of 31 points, finishing with 32 after compiling 20 points (9-11) in seven games last month.
If that isn’t enough, his 86 points (23-63) in 41 games this season is another reason why the Orlando, Fla. native is the focal point of this West Coast draft.
The USNTDP is expected to have a record five players taken with the first 10 selections — Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras and Boldy — and Hughes is focused on being the first graduate of the program to step right into an NHL role.
“That’s my goal,” Hughes said Thursday. “I want to break that barrier. I’m a pretty confident kid and anywhere you go, you have to feel like you belong there and feel good about it.
“It’s just another situation and I’m going to enjoy that.”
Part of that is the environment in which he was raised. Part of it is the admiration of how his older brother, Quinn, teased of potential last spring with the Vancouver Canucks after being selected seventh overall in 2018.
And part of it is his youngest sibling — and the tallest — in Luke who will join the USNTDP next fall.
“It starts with our dad,” said Jack. “Teaching us from a young age all the things you need to be a pro. He instilled a work ethic in us and that was the most important thing. It’s the competitiveness and the drive and you have to sacrifice things. And that’s what we’ve always done and continue to do.”
Hughes’ father, Jim, was a defenceman and team captain at Providence College and then served as an assistant coach. He was also an assistant with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (ECAC), New Jersey (Roller Hockey), Orlando (IHL), Boston, (NHL), Toronto (AHL) and was head coach of Minsk (KHL).
He was also director of player development with the Maple Leafs.
And Jack’s mother, Ellen, was a three-sports star and University of New Hampshire Hall of Fame inductee.
Hughes has drawn creative comparisons to Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, but the centre will drive through traffic to set up teammates or score. Kane likes to draw attention and then do his thing. Hughes has the speed, skill and that second sense. Defenders can’t get near him as he shifts into high gear to release a shot that is heavy and accurate.
“He’s very skilled, but it’s how competitive he is,” said Quinn. “I always thought that’s the big difference in him. He doesn’t care who he’s playing. He’s going to go at you in that way. He’s just so dialed in. He’s working out in the morning and getting his rest and the right food.
“It’s easy to respect him.”
Like his younger brother, Quinn has respect for the USNTDP. It put both of them on fast forward in on-ice development and off-ice discipline.
“It makes you develop earlier than a normal kid,” said Quinn. “When I went there at 15, we were getting up at 7 a.m. for school, going to the rink at noon, having study hall for an hour, working out and skating. And then a military guy put us through some pushups.
“We wouldn’t be home until 7:30. You’re 15 years old and nobody else is doing that, You do it for two years and all of a sudden your game takes off. It’s a perfect spot.”
And just when you think Jack Hughes is way too cool, he reminds us that he only turned 18 last month. When asked what it will be like to hear his name called first Friday, he sounded like a kid, knowing that his draft entourage has swelled to 65 well-wishers.
“My legs might be numb and it can be a little bit of a blur,” he predicted.
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