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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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Luke Hughes is set to follow in the footsteps of his brothers – Jack and Quinn – and be picked in the first round of the National Hockey League draft. And with the Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils owning top-10 picks, there's a chance the defenceman may join the same organization as one of his siblings.

"It would be unbelievable," said the USA Hockey National Team Development Program product. "I'd be really happy to play with my brothers, but I'd also be really happy to go to whatever team wants me the most."

The youngest Hughes brother finished No. 4 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters and the Devils happen to be picking at No. 4. New Jersey took Jack Hughes first overall in 2019. 

"I played with Jack once in high school hockey and middle school hockey," Hughes recalled. "We were on the same line at that time and we had a lot of chemistry, so I think it'd be really fun."

TSN director of scouting Craig Button has Los Angeles taking Hughes at No. 8 in his latest mock draft. The Canucks, who picked Quinn Hughes seventh overall in 2018, will be picking one spot later at No. 9. So, perhaps we will see an all-Hughes pairing in Vancouver one day. 

"We'd probably be really offensive and be in the offensive zone a lot, but also I think we could be a shutdown pairing too," the 17-year-old Luke said. "It'd be really cool, but it's theoretical and there's 32 great spots."

Hughes, who will be heading to the University of Michigan this fall, spoke to TSN about how his game has grown and also shared details about the "freak accident" that ended his season prematurely. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

What happened on the play when you got hurt back on March 7?

"We were playing in Chicago and I came across the ice to try and hit someone and his skate kind of came right across my boot. It's kind of a freak accident. I got stitches in the third period and then came back for overtime."

When did you realize it was more serious and required surgery to repair a tendon?

"We were quarantined for a few days [due to COVID-19 protocols] and it was like day five or six when I realized I couldn't lift my toe and I was like, 'We should probably get this checked out.' So, I got an ultrasound and realized it was cut and needed surgery. It was a tough couple days, but I had a lot of support from my family and friends. It was something I had to do."

It's a big season for you and you were playing well. How did you process the emotions associated with the injury? 

"You just got to realize it's part of the game and guys get hurt all the time. It sucks because you grind for two years with your teammates at the U.S. National Team and you grind to try and win a gold medal at [under-18] Worlds so it was certainly tough to be out of that tournament, but like I said, it's part of the game and I had a lot of support from my coaches and my teammates." 

Where are you at when it comes to the recovery? 

"I'm completely back and skating. I've been skating for four weeks, training really hard, and I'm ready to go. I should be fully 100 per cent by World Junior [summer] camp. I'm really excited and I've been skating really hard."  

Where do you feel like your game grew the most this year?

"I grew my game throughout the year with my confidence level and my mind ... one area I really grew was my offensive blueline instincts and trying to be more creative and create more offence." 

You generated significant offence, posting 34 points in 38 games. How did you become a more creative player?

"Watching hockey a lot is one way. [You] grow your mind by watching what works and what doesn't work in the next levels and especially the National Hockey League. I can play both sides, left and the right, so I think I grew a lot with that this year. It's a really good skill for me because there's different aspects and benefits to both sides, so I think that helped me grow my mind and creativeness."

How did that come about?

"Coach Dan [Muse] put me in some great situations. We talked about it at the start of the year. He asked if I could play the right side and I said, 'Yeah, I'd love to, love to learn and try it,' and I think it kind of clicked at the start of the year. It's a great skill. I grew through it this year. He does a great job mentoring me and teaching. It was his idea and I really loved playing it."

Vegas' Shea Theodore is a lefty playing on the right in the NHL, have you studied his game?

"I watch him a lot. He's someone I play like a little bit. Him and Miro Heiskanen. One thing that stands out is his deceptiveness on the blueline and how deceptive he is on that right side. Watching Quinn's team playing against him last year in the playoffs is the first time I really watched him closely and saw how creative he is and how deceptive he is at that point. He's a really good player and someone I really like to watch."

What are you focused on this off-season? 

"I want to improve on all aspects of my game and try to get better and try to dominate next year. I want to get bigger, stronger, faster. I just want to improve on everything and not just one simple thing ... I'm excited to play at Michigan next year with some great players."

You're listed at 6-foot-2, 182 pounds, where are you at with your strength and physical maturity?

"I got a lot of room to grow. I've gained a lot of weight these past two years. I can gain a lot more. I'm one of the youngest players in the draft [born Sept. 9, 2003] and it's something you can use as an advantage."

What are you going to study at Michigan? 

"Sports management." 

What interests you about that field? 

"When I'm done playing hockey I'd love to be working in hockey. Being an assistant general manager or general manager or something like that would be super cool, so getting a sports management degree would help."

What is your favourite memory growing up as the younger brother in the Hughes household? 

"That's a really good question. You have so many memories of being on the outdoor rink and playing on basically any street corner in Toronto or coming home from a game and playing mini sticks all night in the basement. So, those memories always stick out to me. I loved my time growing up in Toronto [when dad Jim Hughes worked for the Maple Leafs] and it really developed me and my brothers and grew our passion. So, those memories kind of stand out."