VANCOUVER – No one has decided yet the right place for Quinn Hughes to play next season. The good thing for the defenceman and the Vancouver Canucks is there are no bad choices.
Whether the dynamic seventh-overall pick plays in the National Hockey League for the Canucks, their minor-league farm team in Utica, N.Y., or back at the University of Michigan, Hughes will be supported in his development and should continue to build his strength and game.
Hughes is the kind of puck-carrying, power-play-running defencemen Vancouver has rarely had since joining the NHL in 1970, and the rebuilding team is desperate for players who can excite fans and help lift the Canucks out of their lowest ebb in two decades. So there is immense interest on the West Coast about what Quinn and the Canucks will decide for next season.
Both sides would love for him to be capable of playing in the NHL next fall as an 18-year-old. But Hughes is five-foot-10 and 170 pounds, and the Canucks haven’t had a first-round pick play for them the season after his draft since Ryan Kesler in 2003-04. And Kesler, also out of college hockey, spent the first two months of that season in the American Hockey League.
The last Canuck to make the opening-night lineup as an 18-year-old was Trevor Linden, now the team’s president of hockey operations, 30 years ago. Canuck winger Brock Boeser, second in Calder Trophy balloting this spring, spent two post-draft seasons at the University of North Dakota before turning pro after his sophomore year and making his NHL debut at age 20.
Hughes, whose late birthday (Oct. 14, 1999) allowed him to play a full season at Michigan before his draft, believes he’s ready for the NHL.
“I don’t want to be naive or anything, but I think I’m ready right now,” he told Sportsnet on draft night three weeks ago. “I know it’s a hard league. I feel very confident, feel like I can help the Vancouver Canucks.”
But Michigan head coach Mel Pearson and former assistant Jeff Tambellini, who left the Wolverines to become coach and general manager of the Junior-A Trail Smoke Eaters, both told Sportsnet since the draft that Hughes would benefit from another season at college.
He would be one of the best players in the NCAA, play for Team USA at the world junior championship and might still be able to play for the Canucks at the end of next season.
That’s a good option. But so would be turning pro and moving up in caliber while working daily under the keen eyes of the Canucks’ player development department.
Ideally, Hughes would spend the summer training in Vancouver, getting stronger and fitter in order to compete for an NHL spot at training camp. Ideally, October is when the decision should be made on where he plays — after Hughes goes to camp and plays pre-season games with and against NHL players.
But while the Canucks can wait until then, Hughes and Michigan can not.
Pearson said on …read more