Photo Credit – Rena Laverty
Luke Hughes is one of the youngest 2021 NHL Draft prospects. The NHL Draft cut-off date for the 2021 NHL Draft is September 15, 2003 and that means that any player born after the 15th is not eligible for the 2021 draft. Instead, they will be eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft which is headlined by Kingston Frontenacs forward Shane Wright, Winnipeg Ice forward Matthew Savoie and JYP forward Brad Lambert.
Hughes is in his second season with the US National Team Development program (USNTDP) and is following in the foot-steps of his brothers, Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils) and Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks). All three Hughes siblings have suited up for the USNTDP. Once the season concluded, Luke Hughes will be going 30 minutes west of the USA Hockey facilities in Plymouth and will be headed to the University of Michigan. His brother, Quinn also played for the Michigan Wolverines and head coach Mel Pearson.
So far this season, Hughes has played in nine games for the USNTDP and has tallied five assists to date. While there is a lot of uncertainty with the 2020-2021 season given then pandemic, Hughes has proven to be a dominant offensive force and should find himself on the scoresheet quite a bit during the campaign.
D.O.B – September 9, 2003
Nationality – USA
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –176 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Hughes’ Style Of Play
Throughout the rest of 2020 and 2021, you will be constantly seeing analysts compare Brandt Clarke, Simon Edvinsson, Owen Power, Luke Hughes and Carson Lambos. One of these defensemen will be selected before the others. So, it is inevitable that there will be plenty of discussion and debate around which defenseman is the ultimate prize.
In the below dataset, you will have the opportunity to compare the five defensemen. The dataset looks at shots on goal percentage, high danger shots on goal percentage, medium danger shots on goal percentage, low danger shots on goal percentage and the percentage of puck battles won. For most, they would argue that Brandt Clarke and Carson Lambos are the most well-rounded of the five defensemen. I would also argue the same, but the gap between Clarke and Hughes is not astronomical. In fact, it’s quite close. I would have Clarke and Lambos in my top tier for defensemen and Hughes would be in the second tier.
The major difference between Clarke versus Hughes has more to do with upside in all three zones. Clarke is stronger at defending the rush, more robust puck movement skills and his playmaking is more valuable than Hughes. But, Hughes is still a dominant force to be reckoned with.
Hughes is most known for his skating. Almost every game that I tune in to, the first comment that I hear from the play by play and color guys is how dominant Hughes’ stride is. The young defenseman has a silky smooth stride and possesses elite edges. I know that “silky smooth” can be overused quite a bit in scouting reports, but Hughes does have a silky smooth stride. Every glide is well-timed. The extension is not too long and the recovery is exactly where you want it. Not too far out from the torso. With Hughes’ edge work, it allows him to be more spontaneous and quick with the puck than most. We see that quite a bit with his transitional play and defensive zone puck possession. Instead of forcing the puck into tight spots and well-defended lanes, Hughes will opt to re-group and drop back. Sometimes the final decision is to try that same lane once more as the defenders have backed off and abandoned the pressure and/or sometimes it provides Hughes with the ability to pivot, shift gears and find a different lane/avenue to utilize. In order to be that decisive with the puck, you need strong edges to shift or turn away from danger. It also is an indicator of how robust his transitional play is. Players don’t get rewarded for transitional fails. They get rewarded for successful transitions. With the ability to drop back and re-define the plan of attack, the probability of a successful transition is much higher than trying to push through danger.
Aside from Hughes’ skating, my second favorite attribute about the left-handed defenseman is his soft hands. Soft hands are always a great thing to have when you are distributing the puck, shifting around an attacker with the puck or trying to deliver a cross ice feed. While there are certainly moments where Hughes is more jumpy and a bit rough with his feeds, most of the time Hughes is delivering smooth feeds to teammates. In addition, his handy work also pays off when he takes the outside lane and shifts around an attacker while he is rushing up the ice. Hughes loves showing the leather when he is racing towards the slot, but has a man on him. He will shift the puck from left to right, evade the attacker and set up a pass to the slot. But, don’t forget how elite his passing ability is. Hughes can truly thread the needle with his smooth feeds.
In the defensive zone, like Clarke, Hughes will trap his attackers on the rush. Sometimes he will move to the corners, but a decent amount of the time, he plays them close to the vest as they skate up on the right side. Hughes will use his body to push in, cut in front and knock the puck off the attackers’ stick. His poke-checking ability reminds me of former USNTDP defenseman Jake Sanderson (Ottawa Senators prospect), who has shown that he has the ability to swipe the puck away from an attacker with ease.
In addition, Hughes thrives at choosing which lane to eliminate. From the blue line to the red line, the defenseman looks to place himself in the center-left, which forces his attackers to work the outside lane. Instead of opening up lanes and causing a ton of high danger scoring chances, Hughes’ movements eliminate scoring chances and leads to back-checks in the corner.
The only major gap in Hughes’ game is his ability to get his shot on target. Hughes struggles from range and most of his shots end up getting deflected. As we noticed in the dataset earlier, his SOG% is the lowest of the five defensemen and struggles in lower danger shots. The problem with Hughes’ shot is not the mechanics of his shot. It has more to do with pin-pointing the exact lane or the exact moment to shoot.
Quinn Hughes, LHD, Vancouver Canucks
Luke plays a very similar game to his older brother, Quinn. Both defensemen are elite puck-movers with robust skating ability. In addition, both defensemen are highly efficient at drawing the attack to the corners and silencing the rush in a vulnerable spot for the attacker. Quinn and Luke both have proven to be lethal play-makers and possess impressive puck distribution skills.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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