The Jack (Hughes) of all trades

This story was originally published in the World Hockey Magazine.

The legend of Jack Hughes has been one that hockey scouts have been following for some time now. He’s no ordinairy prospect: he is one of the greatest prospects to come out of the United States in some time.

If you’ve gotten this far into the magazine, you know how good Hughes is. Jack is part of a talented hockey family that already saw Quinn get drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, while his younger brother, Luke, committed to the University of Michigan for 2021 at the age of 14. But of the trio, Jack looks like the best of all, especially after his play with the United States National Development program over the past two years.

The Ontario Hockey League declined his bid to earn exceptional status before his actual minor midget season, prompting him to join the USNTDP after dominating the GTHL with 159 points in 80 games in 2106-17 one of the greatest minor midget seasons ever (Connor McDavid had 209 points in 88 games and was granted exceptional status a few years earlier).

Last season, he put up 116 points with the program, just one point shy of tying the record Auston Matthews set during his time with the program. The difference? Hughes did it as a 16-year-old, one year younger than Matthews when he achieved the record. To even get that high, you have to beat out the likes of Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, Jack Eichel, Patrick Kane, the Tkachuk brothers… you get the point.

Hughes’ last tournament before heading off to the World Juniors was a Five Nations tournament overseas in early November. How’d he do? Oh, he just led the entire tournament with 15 points in four games. No biggie. When you look back at highlights from the tournament, it seems as though there’s no true weakness to his game: he’s faster than a Mercedes F1 car, he stickhandles the puck like he has a magnet in his stick, he seems to be able to score at will and makes everyone around him better.

But that’s from a scouting perspective. What makes Hughes the training centre in Oakville, Ontario. You may have seen his videos on Instagram, where he shares clips of players he’s worked with to his nearly 17,000 followers. Among some of the players that have worked with
him in the past include Taylor Hall, John Tavares and Phil Kessel, just to name a few. The Hughes brothers have been training with Ninkovich as well. He has been training Jack for over four years now as a sports performance coach, while also assisting his parents in organizing his off-season training regimens.

SE) When you watch him play, what traits about his game do you notice the most?

DN) His compete level is second to none. What (makes him) stand out from his peers, though, is his spatial awareness and ability to read plays. He has an instinctive understanding as per which areas of the ice he can be creative (and dangerous) with the puck, as well as the ability to read and join a developing play. In a sense, it’s his hockey IQ. His style of play is very deceptive and on one-on-one’s, he is very hard to read. It also helps that his mother, Ellen Hughes, is a skating instructor and a former player, as his edges were always his strong feature.

SE) In the time that you’ve worked with him, what can you say he has improved on the most?

DN) It is a collection of things. Many people contributed to his success — mainly his father Jim
and mother Elle. I usually quote, “it takes a village to raise a child” proverb. What I personally focused on, aside from the obvious, is his lower body mechanics to include injury prevention, his stability, shot mechanics and lateral power.

SE) If you were to ask him, what do you think he would say he needs to work on going forward?

DN) Interestingly enough, we held him back in many respects as we didn’t want to force capacity style of training at a young age. His ceiling for power and strength is very high and we
barely (started last year) have tapped into that. As any player that age, he can get stronger and his shot can get better. He is way ahead of his development curve in some respects, yet has room in other areas as they were not prioritized. After all, he is only 17
years of age.

Jack has a high understanding of the game and is very self-critical. I know he looks to improve details on a game-to-game basis, as the real tests are yet to come in the NHL.

SE) Jack is known to be a very strong skater, but what is it that really stands out with him?

DN) I would describe him as shifty/deceptive, a puck roamer, playmaking style. A word that also comes to mind is a waterbug. His skating with or without the puck is hard to read for the opposing defenders. Every time he is on the ice, he is making things happen. He is built for the new NHL brand of hockey. A Patrick Kane, Mitch Marner-hybrid would be a fair comparison. I also worked with Connor McDavid at his age, and can tell you that they have a very similar development curve.

SE) You’ve gotten to know Jack as more than just a hockey player, but as a person too. What is he like?

DN) I met him as a boy, but now he demands respect with his professionalism and attitude towards the game and his surroundings. It is a lot of pressure that not many would be able to handle. So, in many ways, I admire him too. But he is not only a hockey player, I know him as a genuine, fun and a good-hearted kid I enjoy working with. If you knew his parents, you
would understand it can not be any other way. They are an example family and I am proud to be a part of their circle.

SE) The entire Hughes family have shown talent. What is it that makes Quinn, Jack and Luke as good as they are?

DN) Well, you have three brothers, and that is a good start as the competitive environment is there. I would say it’s the love for the game. Not just playing the game, but understanding the concept and a process behind it. Obviously, there is a genetic component since both parents played and work in hockey, but their curiosity to learn, understand and get better could not be forced upon them. They breathe hockey.