Fortunately, Hughes has never shied away from the spotlight. Both candid and confident, he set the all-time points record (228) for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program this year. And before his 18th birthday, the Orlando-born star suited up for three IIHF tournaments this season.
Hughes earned a silver medal at the 2019 World Juniors in Canada. En route to bronze at the 2019 U18 Worlds in Sweden, he set a record with 32 career points, besting Alexander Ovechkin’s old mark (31). The 179-cm, 77-kg ace also played for the seventh-place U.S. team at the Worlds in Slovakia.
If Hughes develops like the only other two USNTDP forwards taken first overall (Patrick Kane in 2007 and Auston Matthews in 2016), both New Jersey and Team USA fans are in for years of delight. And there's great curiosity about how his older brother Quinn, a rookie defenceman with the Vancouver Canucks, and their younger brother Luke will pan out too.
IIHF.com sat with Hughes to get his thoughts on a wide variety of topics before and after the draft.
On how it feels to go #1 overall
It’s a surreal feeling. It’s unbelievable. I’m really just blessed to be around the people I am. I’m really thankful for the people that have gotten me where I am today. My parents, aunts, uncles, friends. Everyone that’s gotten me to this point. So thankful.
On his rivalry with Finland’s Kaapo Kakko, drafted second overall by the New York Rangers
I’ve said this for the last couple of weeks: we’re going to be linked together for a long time. It’s gonna be pretty cool.
On Devils GM Ray Shero
He’s a beauty. He’s a pretty good guy. I think he’s a really smart hockey person, and he built the Penguins’  Cup team, so I’m sure he’ll put a really good team in place in New Jersey.
On how fast he did the Grouse Grind, a near-vertical 2.9-km mountain hike in North Vancouver, two days before the draft
I’ll knock myself down a couple of minutes. I’ll go 30, I guess. [laughs] No, it was a lot more than that, I’ll tell you that. Me and Quinn were the same exact pace. Lukey and one of my good friends from Toronto shot up the mountain, though. They got up there pretty fast. [Note: their father Jim Hughes told Sportsnet that Luke finished in 40:38, while Quinn and Jack were in the 47-minute range.]
On the height of Luke, a 15-year-old defenceman who will join the USNTDP in the fall
Me and Quinn must have missed that part! [laughs] Kid’s six foot right now. Insane. He’s going to be a helluva player. He’s big, he can skate, he can think. He’s pretty much a clone of Quinn, just two or three inches bigger. It’s pretty exciting.
On what stood out to him at a pre-draft youth skills clinic in Vancouver
One of the kids asked me what I did when I was his age, how much I trained. I was like, “Man, just go stickhandle in the garage or something. Go shoot some pucks! You don’t need to be lifting weights or anything.” I think I love kids like that who have a lot of passion and love the game. Rink rats.
On where he and his brothers got their urge to excel
I think it starts with our dad, obviously, him teaching us from a young age all the things to do to be a pro. He instilled a work ethic in us. I know that was the most important thing when we were young kids and still is. I think it’s the competitiveness in us, the drive. You’ve got to sacrifice some things to be the best. That’s what we’ve always done and will continue to do.
On what he thinks, as the son of 1992 IIHF Women’s World Championship silver medalist Ellen Hughes, about the #ForTheGame movement holding out for better conditions in women’s hockey
I mean, I’m not too in tune with it. I don’t really know. But I think that women’s hockey is just as important as men’s hockey. They should probably be getting paid a certain amount of money. I know a lot of girls are starting to play hockey now because of people like that, the Hilary Knights, the [Marie-Philip] Poulins. Hopefully it works out for them and hopefully they can get it going in two years.
On how playing hockey in Toronto shaped him
Toronto’s like a jungle, almost. It’s crazy. There are so many players and it’s so competitive up there. Hockey is a religion up there. I probably don’t think me, Quinn and Luke would be the players we are without Toronto. With my dad working with the Leafs, we always were around guys like that. Willie [Nylander] was unbelievable with us. He stayed at our house for three weeks and treated us so well. He’s such a good guy.
On what the USNTDP did for his game
I just think the training we do there is second to none. Our practices, our games...we lift two or three times a week. It’s so competitive. You’re playing the best players in the country in your age group on a daily basis. So when I go into a puck battle, I have to go against [Matthew] Boldy one time and then I’m going against [Alex] Turcotte the next time and then I’m going against [Trevor] Zegras. I think that makes you a better player. And the coaches treat us unbelievable. Coach Wrobo [John Wroblewski] couldn’t have coached us better. Credit to the people who work at the program, because they really helped us out.
On U.S. teammate Spencer Knight, the highest-drafted goalie (#13 overall to Florida)
Your confidence is obviously not there at the end of the practice when he’s making nine out of 10 saves! He’s such a pro. He’s so mature. He studies the game. Unbelievable player, obviously. He thinks like a defenceman.
On comparisons between Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat and Hughes’ longtime linemate Cole Caufield (#15 to Montreal)
I think they’re spot-on. They’re right there. They’re two unbelievable talents, a little different, but the way they can put the puck in the net, it’s insane. It’s a real knack. It’s not something you can teach.
On how it will feel the first time his Devils and Quinn’s Canucks play each other
It’s going to be higher stakes. It’s going to be the NHL. It’s going to be really special and my mom’s probably going to be really nervous. But all my family and friends will watch it. It’ll be a really special game, something that I’ll look back on, maybe similar to the Michigan game this year. It’ll be awesome.
On what it would be like if he and Quinn were both Calder Memorial Trophy finalists
Man, we’re a long way away from that! [laughs] I haven’t played a game in the NHL yet. So I’m not too worried about that right now.