“I am very grateful to USA Hockey for the opportunity,” said Hughes. “I understand how rare this is and I’m very excited about it. At the same time, I am trying to act like I belong here. The guys have been great to me and I really like this team.”
Hughes is eligible for the NHL Entry Draft this June and is expected to be a top ten, possibly top five, pick. Hughes, who completed his freshman year at the University of Michigan, has the reputation of being a smaller but very highly skilled defenceman. Among draft watchers, Hughes has been called the best skater available. It's his skating, hockey sense, and offensive upside that lead many to believe Hughes will thrive in a league built on speed.
Hughes has garnered attention enough that Team USA captain Patrick Kane joked a few days ago that Chicago should draft him if he’s still around when they select at number eight but acknowledged that he very well might not.
"He's a great player and great skater who has a bright future ahead of him," Kane said.
“I don’t think there is any pressure,” Hughes said. “This is bonus hockey for me being here. I could be home right now sitting on my couch and watching this on television but instead I have the opportunity to learn and contribute. There’s no pressure so I’m going to do what I am good at to help this team and get better every day.”
He’s certainly taking it all in. On the bench and in practice, Hughes is constantly engaged with his teammates, listening, learning, asking questions. Off the ice, he is learning by example and it clearly means a lot to be able to play among NHL players.
“It’s been unbelievable just being around this team,” Hughes said of the American squad. “Seeing all these pros and what they do day to day, the stretching, eating, how they tape their stick, how they prepare for games. I’m just going to take it all in and I think it will help me beyond the tournament and into the future.”
Beyond the game preparation, there is something about the approach of the professional hockey player to the game itself. Hughes sees this, too.
“This is a great experience playing against and with pros,” Hughes remarked. “It is a little bit harder. There’s a different mindset a pro mindset. Not that there isn’t any joking around, but it is more serious."
Hughes comes from a hockey family that is not only accomplished but perhaps set to have an impact on the future of the NHL and Team USA squads at international tournaments. His mom, Ellen Hughes, played for the University of New Hampshire and was a member of the women’s national team. Dad Jim was a star at Providence College and was a US Select member on the 1988 Spengler Cup winning team who spent six years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, including as director of player development. His siblings are talented in their own right. Luke is an exceptional player, and Jack is being talked about as a possible first overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft and just became MVP of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (see feature on him).
Quinn has already won a bronze with the U20 team at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. If the United States has any chance of advancing through this tournament and deep in the playoff round, they will need continued contributions - big and small - from players throughout the lineup.
“We all want to win here,” he said. “Team USA has not won gold since 1933 so that is a huge goal for us.”