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Luke Hughes: 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; A Highly Skilled Defenseman With Huge Offensive Upside

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Luke Hughes is a supremely skilled offensive defenseman that has the potential to develop into a dominant two-way defenseman. The US National Team Development Program product is set to follow his brothers Quinn and Jack as an impact player at the NHL level. The talented defenseman is set to be a top five pick in this year’s draft. Today’s post will profile the young defenseman.

2019 NHL Draft - Round One
Luke Hughes is one of the top prospects in the 2021 NHL Draft. Could he be reunited with his brother Jack Hughes in New Jersey?
Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s that time of year where we get to profile various draft prospects ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft. Last night, we learned that the New Jersey Devils will pick 4th overall. They will have a chance to draft and develop a very skilled prospect with this pick, so to start off our profile series, we will take a look at Luke Hughes. This prospect is a highly talented defenseman who could be available to the Devils. Let’s get to know more about Luke Hughes now.

Who is Luke Hughes?

According to his profile over at USA Hockey, Luke Hughes is a 6’2”, 182 lbs. left handed defenseman from Canton, Michigan. He was born on September 9, 2003 which makes him one of the youngest players in the draft as he just missed the cutoff for the 2022 NHL Draft. As has been well documented, Luke comes from a hockey family that fans are very well aware of. Luke is the youngest of the Hughes brothers, following in the footsteps of LD Quinn (Vancouver Canucks) and C Jack (New Jersey Devils). Thanks to his profile over at Elite Prospects, we can dive further into his family tree, noting that he’s the son of Jim Hughes and Ellen Weinberg-Hughes. Luke’s father Jim was a former defenseman for Providence College in the 80’s and has held coaching roles across the NCAA, IHL, AHL, NHL, and KHL. Most notably, Jim was the Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2009 to 2015. Luke’s mother Ellen was a former defenseman for the University of New Hampshire and the USA National Team, notably earning a World Championship Silver Medal in 1992.

Elite Prospects shows that Luke started his bantam hockey with the Toronto Marlboros U14 AAA team in 2016-17. He then moved on to play for the Little Caesars 14U AAA in 2017-18. He would spend another season in that program, playing for the 15U team in 2018-19. He led all defenseman in the league in goals (22), assists (61), and points (83) in 71 games.

Luke Hughes joined the prestigious US National Team Development Program in 2019-20 and immediately saw success. That season he played for the U17 team with the other Jack Hughes (no relation) and finished 2nd in scoring among defenseman with 28 points in 48 USDP games. In USHL action he was 3rd in scoring for defenseman on the team with 13 points in 28 games, one point behind Jake Sanderson who was selected 5th overall by Ottawa in the 2020 NHL Draft. That season he also represented the US U17 team at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge where they earned a Silver Medal. He had a goal and 3 assists in 6 games in that tournament.

This past season he moved up to the U18 team in the USNTDP where he was nearly a point per game player with 6 goals and 28 assists for 34 points in 38 USDP games. He was just as effective in the USHL with 4 goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 18 games before his season was cut short due to a lacerated foot tendon that he suffered after being cut by a skate. He had surgery on March 17 and was set to resume skating in May. As for next season, he’s already committed to playing for the University of Michigan in 2021-22 which should be excellent for his development. His late birthday makes him just eligible for this year’s draft so it’s important that whoever takes him is willing to be patient with him as he still has a lot of developing left to do.

Where is Luke Hughes Ranked?

For the most part Luke Hughes is seen as a top five prospect in the draft. Though some issues about his defensive potential and the injury seem to have him as low as 11th on some rankings. Here are some of the most recent rankings:

What Others Say About Luke Hughes

Here is a scouting report on Luke Hughes from Josh Tessler of Smaht Scouting. The report has plenty of praise for his skating which supports his transition game. Here are some excerpts:

The young defenseman has a silky smooth stride and possesses elite edges...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.

It’s no surprise to read that Hughes’ skating is a huge asset to his game. The praise for his stride and edgework here mirrors what other outlets have mentioned about Hughes. His work in transition seems to really stand out among all the defenders in the draft.

The report then notes that the next aspect of his game that stands out is his soft hands:

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.

Once again, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen his passing ability and vision in the offensive zone praised. He seems to have that part of the game figured out already.

Regarding his defensive game the report makes note of his poke-checking and hockey IQ:

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.

The defensive game for Hughes is still very much a work in progress, even when comparing him to his peers. I do like reading that he knows how to use his stick in the defensive zone and understands how he should be playing attackers when they try to enter the zone.

Moving on to another perspective, we have this profile from Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst. This profile opens up with a season review where he mentions that Hughes was effective playing on the right side despite being a left handed shot. Regarding his role:

Hughes has been able to distinguish himself playing the right side on the top pairing with Aidan Hreschuk, in addition to serving as the primary power-play quarterback and as a penalty killer.

When it comes to his skating and stickhandling, there is more praise for his smooth, effective stride, mobility, and elite edgework. I thought this part really stood out:

Hughes is the rare gem along the blue line whose hands can keep up with the quickness of his feet.

It is really encouraging to read that his hands keep up with his feet so he keeps himself a constant threat in the offensive zone when he has the puck and in transition.

This profile also had praise for how Luke Hughes plays defense and uses his body, especially when compared to where his brother Quinn was at the same point in his development:

Luke has the bigger frame and he certainly knows how to use it, but he also has the occasional mean streak where he’ll muscle up on an opponent along the boards. Additionally, Luke plays very close to his line and will hold firm against the quickest of onrushing puck carriers, using his long reach and an effective stick-on-puck technique.

I do like reading another report that notes his effective stick when defending. It’s also nice to see a skilled player like him not hesitant to get involved physically when the situation calls for it.

Kournianos also notes that he has the same hockey sense as his brothers:

Having an acute sense of the ever-changing tactical situation on the ice seems to be a hallmark of all three Hughes brothers, so watching Luke dart or weave his way into an opening nobody saw developing shouldn’t be surprising.

Here is some of what Tony Ferrari of Dobber Prospects had to say about Luke Hughes back in February:

His offensive game is the most dynamic of any of the blueliners in this range with only Clarke really coming close...His defensive play is improving and he’s learning to take advantage of his mobility when closing gaps and understanding when to angle and use his stick. The growth that’s happened already is promising and the fact that he is among the youngest players in the draft as a September birthday makes him the most intriguing defender in the class to me.

The fact Hughes is one of the youngest players in the draft is brought up often but for good reason. He really has a lot of development left and in a way whoever drafts him is getting almost an extra year to develop him. He has his defensive shortcomings but it looks like a lot of that is coachable.

Next, Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports has this in-depth report on Luke Hughes. Here are some excerpts, first regarding his skating which backs up what the other reports said:

Hughes can avoid forecheckers and get past defenders as he skates the puck out of the defensive zone and up the ice. His ability to walk the line opens up passing and shooting lanes in the offensive end.

It’s definitely clear by now that Hughes knows how to utilize his skating.

Regarding his offensive game:

He has good vision and when he gets the opportunity he can find an open teammate to set up a scoring chance. His ability to control the play and speed things up or slow them down allows his teammates time to get open. Hughes also has a very good slap shot and one-timer.

Once again it seems that Hughes already has the offensive side of the game figured out and should be able to translate that to the next level.

Regarding his defensive game:

He can be too aggressive looking for a big hit or chasing after the puck and this can get him out of position. Too much focus on the puck can also lead to him losing his man. He needs to learn to stay between the puck and the net, cutting down passing and shooting lanes.

At least all of these things are coachable and he should be able to improve upon them with more time. This report, like the others, mentions that Hughes has the potential to be a true #1 defenseman at the NHL level if he can improve his defensive game without sacrificing the offense.

Finally, here is how the Hockey Prospecting model views Luke Hughes:

via HockeyProspecting.com

I was a bit surprised to see his Star Probability that low, however I do think a big season with the University of Michigan next year could really change the model’s outlook on him. Regardless, being similar to P.K. Subban, Mikhail Sergachev, Alex Pietrangelo, and Dougie Hamilton is good company to be in.

A Little Video

I highly recommend checking out this video on Luke Hughes from Scouching. It’s 18 minutes but will give you a really great breakdown of his game and potential:

Essentially, Scouching has a lot of praise for Hughes’ transition game and how that translates into offensive zone success for his team. It was noted that Hughes was a high volume and efficient puck mover in transition which really stood out among all the defenseman tracked by Scouching in this draft. Hughes plays with a lot of confidence which allows him to utilize his speed, skill, and vision to create scoring chances. In the offensive zone he racked up a lot of shot assists and attempts.

In terms of his defensive game, Scouching praised his stick work, mobility, and ability to turn defense into offense. Scouching does not that Hughes needs a lot of work in his own zone though. Notably, Hughes needs to cut down on defensive lapses and turnovers, learn to utilize his teammates better when under pressure, needs to improve his defense on zone entries, and needs to keep his feet moving and not rely so much on his stick.

There is a lot more in the video so be sure to check it out. At the end of the day, Scouching thinks Hughes is one of the most exciting defenseman in this year’s draft and is likely to be a puck rushing, offensive defenseman with the potential to be a dominant two-way defender if he can improve his defense.

Next, we have this highlights package from Prospect Film Room:

The video starts with a really nice end to end rush by Hughes where he creates a shot for himself. Around 0:30 you get to see him join the attack as the 4th man and it results in him scoring a goal. At 1:15 he turns defense into offense when he breaks up a zone entry, steals the puck, and gets it to a teammate which eventually leads to a goal for his team. At 1:50 you get a great example of how comfortable he is at running a PP and moving freely throughout the offensive zone. Throughout the rest of the highlight package his game is on full display.

An Opinion of Sorts

Overall, I have a very favorable view of Luke Hughes as a prospect and would be very happy if the Devils drafted him with the #4 pick. He has great offensive skills and instincts that could potentially make him an elite offensive defenseman in the NHL someday. His skating, vision, and hockey IQ is right up there with the best of them in this year’s draft. He’s already 6’2” and will only grow stronger as he fills out his frame. That will help him win more board battles and be tougher to play against. I really am impressed by how high volume and efficient he was in the transition game for the USNTDP and I think that’s something he can translate to college and eventually the NHL. His ability to play on either side at even strength and run a powerplay is another plus.

Despite his defensive shortcomings, he won’t turn 18 until September 9, 2021 which makes him eligible for this year’s draft by about a week. Whoever drafts him could let him spend a season or two playing at the University of Michigan which is a great fit for his development. He could spend two seasons in college and still be young enough to make his NHL debut in his age 20 season. His defensive issues all seem coachable and he seems to have the work ethic and athletic ability to correct these mistakes as he gets more time. Playing against older, bigger, and stronger competition in college should challenge but ultimately help him correct some of these issues.

I also think there is value in having two older brothers that are already playing in the NHL and have gone through the process of being a hyped prospect. Luke is very much his own player with his own skillset but being able to rely on the advice and support of Quinn and Jack should definitely be something that helps Luke going forward.

When it comes to Luke Hughes my biggest concern is how did he recover from the surgery for his lacerated foot tendon? I’ve read a few conflicting things about how that could affect him long term. Obviously, his skating and mobility is the core of his game so any negative impact the injury has on that long term really affects his future outlook. I hope for his sake that everything went well and he’s made a full recovery. Luke Hughes is an exciting, dynamic prospect that I hope to see fulfill his potential. Perhaps that will be with the New Jersey Devils if he’s available when their time to pick comes.

Your Take

What are your thoughts on Luke Hughes? Do you think he will still be on the board when the Devils select at #4? Where would you rank him among the other top defenseman in this year’s draft? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!