Quinn Hughes put together an impressive combination of moves early in the first period of Thursday night’s All-American Prospects game, deking his way around a defenseman and straight to Team Chelios goalie Drew Deridder. It didn’t lead to a goal, but it’d be surprising if a majority of the 130 scouts in attendance weren’t smiling as they looked on from the KeyBank Center press box.
The fact that he’s a defenseman made the play even more spectacular.
“It shows you the skill level (top American players) have,” coach Brian Leetch said.
That stick-handling ability contributes to him being one of the most intriguing names for the 2017-18 NCAA season and a top prospect in next year’s draft. Future Considerations ranked him ninth in its preliminary ranking, with his stock rising after an impressive summer.
“He’s one of the smartest and most offensively gifted players I’ve ever played with,” said Brady Tkachuk, Hughes’ Team Leetch teammate and roommate at the U.S. Development Program. “He’s always creating something every shift.”
Hughes has seen success with the development program in the USHL, notching 26 points in 26 games last season, but he started turning heads once he got a chance to play international competition. He is one of three players in Thursday’s showcase who spent parts of July and August in the U.S. World Junior Summer Showcase, a tryout for the final U.S. roster.
“It was a great experience for me,” Hughes said. “It was a long ten days, but it was fun.”
He performed well, leading U.S. coach Bob Motzko to say he has a chance to fill the offensive defenseman hole left by Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy.
“The snapshot we have from this week, we’re very excited,” Motzko told NHL.com in August.
Now it’s about earning his way back to Buffalo in a few months despite being one of the youngest options available. The 5-foot-9 defenseman said playing in the KeyBank Center gave him motivation, but he already has plenty of that because of where he’s from.
Hughes was born in Orlando, Florida, but moved up to Toronto when he was six. Despite living in two countries, he never became a dual citizen. That led to plenty of razzing from his teammates, especially when the World Juniors rolled around.
“It was tough, especially when we lost to Canada,” Hughes said. “Guys would give it to me. ... In Toronto, the World Juniors is the biggest event of the year. You don’t even know it’s Christmas. It’s just World Junior time.”
This year, he has a chance to personally quiet his friends, but it’s an uphill battle for any player to make a World Juniors squad before they’ve been drafted. He said his experience at the Summer Showcase and playing against men at the University of Michigan this fall and winter can prepare him.
If everything works out, he’ll have a chance to match up with Canada on an enormous stage, the first ever World Juniors outdoor game at New Era Field in December.
“That’d be awesome,” Hughes said. “I play a lot of outdoor hockey in Toronto because there’s like 800 (rinks) around the city.”