The New Jersey Devils prospect played one game for the United States at the 2022 World Junior Championship (WJC) in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., before the tournament was canceled Dec. 29 due to the pandemic .
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The 18-year-old defenseman wrapped up his freshman season at the University of Michigan and made it to the Frozen Four, then made 10 appearances for the Americans at the 2022 World Championship in Helsinki and Tempere, Finland.
Back to the postponed 2022 World Juniors, which will take place August 9-20 in Edmonton.
“I’m preparing my body this summer and trying to get ready for the season in Michigan – actually, for the World Juniors first and foremost to try and win a gold medal,” Hughes said. laughing at the USA Hockey Junior National Team Evaluation Camp last week.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead. I’m going one game at a time, one event at a time, and it starts with the World Juniors. I can’t wait to participate. »
Hughes, the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft, has come a long way in the space of a few months. Imagine where he will be at the end of his second university campaign, as he considers the option of signing a contract with the Devils.
In the United States’ only game at the WJC in December, a 3-2 win over Slovakia in the preliminary round, Hughes played 16:36 – fifth among the team’s six defensemen in ice time.
At Michigan, he had 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 41 games, third on a team full of NHL prospects. He was the only freshman to finish among 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Trophy, awarded to the NCAA Most Valuable Player.
At the 2022 World Championship, he averaged 19:14 and had four points (one goal, three assists) in 10 games against men. On a few occasions, he was paired with Seth Jonesand he faced attackers like David Pastrnak and David Krejci. The United States fell 4-3 to Finland in the semifinals on May 28, and then went down 8-4 against Czechia in the bronze medal match on May 29.
“It was an amazing experience for me,” Hughes said. It is very enriching. I learned a lot. It would have been nice to get a medal, but that will be the goal for the next two tournaments. »
The next two tournaments? Yep, after WJC 2022, Hughes is eligible to attend WJC 2023 in Halifax, NS and Moncton, NB from December 26th to January 5th.
But again, he’s taking it one game at a time, one event at a time.
Hughes said he’s gained between 8 and 10 pounds since the start of the offseason, making him 6-foot-2 and 189 pounds.
He trains at home in suburban Detroit with NHL players like Red Wings center Dylan Larkin and Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor – and of course, his brothers, the center of the Devils Jack Hughes and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes.
“I want to get better in the defensive zone,” Hughes said. I want to work on my hands, work on my shot, get better in all aspects. Details with the handling of the stick, with the ways of closing the game. There is not only one facet to work on. »
Nate Leaman, who coaches Providence College and the United States junior team, noticed a difference in Hughes’ attire between December and July, when he participated in the first practice of the U.S. assessment camp. junior national team.
“His observation skills on the ice have improved,” noted Leaman. We did a lot of exercises where he had to read the game from different angles. I found him very good, and he had the desire to apply himself. His game has clearly matured. »
Leaman maintained that the United States will ask more of Hughes this time around, and Hughes won’t mind.
“I’m really excited to try to win a gold medal and be an impact player on this team, to have an important role,” said Hughes. I think I had a very good summer and a very good end to the season, particularly at the World Championship and the [Frozen Four]. I think I’m ready for it, and I’m really excited. »
All this should only be beneficial for its development.
Other elite defensemen before him have opted to play a second college season before making the leap to the pros. Of the number, we find Zach Werenskyeighth pick in the 2015 draft, who played at Michigan from 2014 to 2016 before signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets; Hold Makar, fourth pick in the 2017 draft, who played for the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 2017 to 2019 before signing with the Colorado Avalanche; and quinn hughesthe seventh pick of the 2018 draft, who played at Michigan from 2017 to 2019 before signing a deal with the Canucks.
“I think it had been a very good year in the development of [Quinn] and it prepared him for the NHL, Luke said. So that’s what I’m going to do. »