Although he has not cornered gold on the IIHF commodity market, Jack Hughes of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) is now the career scoring king for the Team USA teens.
Not only did he become the NTDP’s all-time leading scorer this season, but he broke Alex Ovechkin’s career scoring mark at the IIHF U-18 World Championships, collecting three points in the 2019 bronze-medal game, edging Alexander the Great in career points: 32 to 31. Then the youngster was named to the Team USA World Championship team that will be playing in Slovakia.
Hughes, who turns 18 on May 14, is the projected first overall draft pick in June’s NHL draft. This spring Hughes has been on a carousel of NTDP scoring milestones, passing the biggest names in American hockey history on his way to the program’s all-time career marks in points (197) and assists (134). In point scoring, Patrick Kane (172), Phil Kessel (180), and Clayton Keller (189) fell like dominos, while Auston Matthews (88), Keller (118), and Jeremy Bracco (122) were surpassed by Hughes in the career-assist race.
Hughes was not afraid to savor his accomplishments while in the midst of dethroning USA Hockey legends. “I’m real excited,” Hughes said to NHL.com’s Mike Morreale prior to the U-18 World Championships. “Now that my time with the program is coming to an end, records are being broken. It’s really cool to know what I’ve accomplished here.”
Unlike older brother Quinn and younger brother Luke, Jack does not intend to play NCAA hockey; the 5-foot-10, 170-pound middle brother will take his game directly to the NHL this fall. The New Jersey Devils, having won the NHL Draft Lottery’s first pick, will most likely be his first professional home.
“To have an opportunity at a Jack Hughes is what our franchise needs,” Devils GM Ray Shero said on the set of NHL Tonight. “We said we need more talent, and we’re certainly going to get it here in June. I’m happy for our fans.”
The day of the NHL Draft Lottery, NHL.com tracked down the elite prospect via Skype. “I think New Jersey would be a great spot,” Hughes said. “I know they’ve got a lot of young talent there.”
Hughes has played summer hockey with the Devils star forward Taylor Hall, another lottery pick who should share power play minutes with Jack next season. But assuming Hughes will thrive in the world’s toughest league as an undersized teen might be premature.
Unlike the aforementioned Clayton Keller—officially listed at 5-foot-10, 170, identical to Hughes—Jack spends much of his ice-time carrying the puck, not setting up plays. It is what garners him so much attention, not only from the fans but also from physical defenders. Playing against older competition in the U-20 World Junior Championship this January, Hughes got banged up, suffering a shoulder injury that caused him to miss three critical games.
Older brother Quinn spent two seasons filling out at the University of Michigan’s spacious weight room before embarking on his NHL career. Younger brother Luke has committed to the Wolverines as well. One wonders if the NCAA route might have been a good choice for Jack as well. The NHL can be a dangerous place for an undersized point-producer to develop into a man.