The 2021 NHL Entry Draft draws nearer, and trying to determine the right prospects to focus on (due to availability) remains a challenging proposition. As of the time of this writing, the Kings currently sit equidistant between a playoff position and last in the division.
With a higher degree of uncertainty, we kept our focus on the blueline for now. Like in 2008, there is a dearth of high-end defenders available. However, unlike last week, we chose to look at a player who had a bit more stability in a chaos-filled season.
Date of Birth: September 9, 2003
Weight: 176 lbs
Hughes played the entirety of the 2020-21 season for the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). He accumulated 34 points (6 G, 28 A) in 38 contests.
The Hughes Brothers
Hopefully the last name sounds familiar. Luke Hughes is the youngest brother of the Hughes trio between Quinn and Jack. The older brothers were drafted seventh overall in 2018 and first in 2019 respectively. Like his brothers, Luke is expected to go early in the first round. He stands out just a little bit more, though, dwarfing his brothers at 6’2.
The Kings have a bit more insight on the promising defenseman. Last year, the Ontario Reign head coach John Wroblewski was Hughes’ bench boss on the U-17 team.
Stacking the Deck
The 2021 NHL Entry Draft features several highly touted prospects. Three of the top players hail from the University of Michigan: Owen Power, Matthew Beniers, and Kent Johnson. Hughes is committed to be a Wolverine as well next season.
Alternatively, he was also selected by the Saginaw Spirit in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection Draft. If he were to take that route, he would lose his NCAA eligibility.
Rankings by Independent Scouting Services
The Draft Analyst, 13th. “Skating unsurprisingly is at the heart of Hughes’s ability to dictate pace and tempo. Much like his brother Quinn, Luke is an effortless skater with a long, clean stride and instant acceleration. There are several factors that tie into his willingness to take the puck the length of the ice with ease, but multi-directional quickness, balance, and agility are at the forefront. Hughes’s mobility when combined with a strong will to attack pressure is a major problem for opposing forecheckers and in turn, opposing forechecking strategy as a whole. There’s simply no real way to prepare for him, and pray for the ankles of the checker who attempts man-to-man coverage, especially when Hughes is controlling the puck at the point. All that said, the most impressive aspects of Hughes’s skating are his elite edgework and his ability to maintain speed throughout his forward or backward transitions. He is a more than a handful to contain.”
Future Considerations, First. “Holding on to the top spot in the draft for FCHockey, Hughes has seen his season come to an early end after surgery to repair a foot tendon lacerated by a skate cut. The highly-skilled defender wrapped up his season with 34 points (six goals, 28 assists) in 38 games, impressing FCHockey scouts enough to maintain his No. 1 ranking. The draft is extremely fluid still, so much so that a strong performance from one of the other contenders participating in the Under-18s could see Hughes supplanted as the top seed.”
Bob McKenzie’s Mid-Season Rankings, Fifth. “Luke isn’t viewed as offensively dynamic and creative a blueliner as Quinn — not many are, mind you — but he’s still an outstanding skater with great puck-moving ability. And while Luke’s defensive game is raw, he has a much bigger frame to work with than his brother(s). His season, however, is over after undergoing foot surgery to repair damaged tendons because of a skate cut.”
See For Yourself
Here is a shift-by-shift video of Luke Hughes playing against the NCAA this season.
This unusual season had many challenges for everyone, and the disparity of ranking from first to 13th is emblematic of questions for even the most talented prospects. In-person scouting could not be deployed as much as everyone had hoped, some teams didn’t have training camps (or in the case of the OHL, didn’t have a season altogether), and other similar issues.
That said, Hughes comes from a good family of successful NHL players. His pedigree combined with his skillset makes him a viable pick. He put up nearly a point-per-game, which is great for a forward, never mind a defenseman. He’s also a very young player from this draft class – if he was born a week later, he wouldn’t be eligible for this year’s draft.
There are, of course, valid questions as well. Jack Hughes was the first player to play in the NHL straight out of the USNTDP. Patience is essential should he be among the newest class to join the Kings organization. More importantly, it’s always scary when a player whose game depends on skating and then needs surgery on a foot tendon.
Taking all this into consideration, the question remains who the Kings consider the “best player available.” The scouting staff has a lot of credibility in identifying talented players. Unfortunately, he will not be able to participate in the U18 tournament, which starts on April 26 to further quell any fears. His pros outweigh any concerns people may have for him, though, so he shouldn’t have his stock fall too far as a byproduct of his unavailability.
NOTE: David Hofreiter was the lead contributor in the gathering of information used in this article. You can find him on Twitter @Davidenkness to talk more hockey.