Last Tuesday McKeen’s released its first 2021 NHL Draft ranking (you can find it here) and sitting at number three was a familiar name for prospect watchers in another Hughes brother, Luke. Ryan Wagman, our Director of Prospect Scouting has closely watched his brothers Jack and Quinn in their draft years, and provides an overview of the youngest sibling’s game.
With the publication of our ranking, we will begin to list all previous previews of 2021 NHL Draft prospects in these columns at the bottom of the article to make it easier for you to compare notes.
Viktor Fomich, our senior Russian prospect analyst, looks at one of the most exciting prospects to enter the NHL in recent years. Already a star in the KHL, Kirill Kaprizov has consistently exceeded expectations with every challenge since being drafted in the fifth round by the Minnesota Wild. Fomich traces the steps along the way and shows what sets Kaprizov apart and on the path to NHL superstardom.
The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
2021 NHL Draft Prospect – Meet the youngest Hughes brother eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft
By Ryan Wagman
Luke Hughes, D, 17 years old, 6’2”, 175lbs
2020-21 USNTDP U18, 30GP-6G-26A-32PTS
2020-21 USNTDP Juniors, USHL, 10GP-4G-9A-13PTS
Digging into Luke Hughes’ DNA, we would see much to compare the young blueliner with this years’ USNTDP U18 class with his older brothers Quinn, of the Vancouver Canucks, and Jack, of the New jersey Devils. Yet scouting is less a matter of studying charts from 23-and-me and more a matter of looking at how a player performs on the ice, and how he projects to continue performing in the future.
On the ice, we still see things that allow us to compare Hughes to his famous older brothers. For one, he is a beautiful skater. He has a smooth, fluid stride that simply eats up the ice. His edges are extremely sharp as well, allowing to execute very tight turns that make him difficult to defend against. That tight-turning ability was an understated element of the games of both of his brothers as well, something that made them so dangerous in the offensive zone – Jack, especially.
How the USNTDP uses the youngest Hughes is also reminiscent of his brothers, in that when he is on the ice, his teammates try to give him the puck to make something happen. Luke Hughes’ feet are constantly in motion when he doesn’t have the puck, too, as he hunts angles for his teammates to connect with him on passes. He will move laterally across the blueline, or vertically, up the wall - or even into the slot – to try to spark something in the danger zones.
There is still a lot of season to be played and many more viewings of the program to be had, but I think it is fair to say that the youngest Hughes can match his brothers, stride for stride, when it comes to his ability to impact the game with his feet. Regarding all other aspects of his game, Luke is his own man.
Starting with the obvious, Quinn and Jack are both sub-six footers, and slim to boot. Not so with Luke. On a line chart from a game I attended around two months ago, he was listed at 6-2”, 176. He clearly needs to add muscle, but assuming he can fill out more than his brothers have, he has near ideal size for a modern blueliner. Even in his current, skinny phase, he plays a more physical game than either of his brothers did as prospects (and some would say that lack of physicality/grit has followed Quinn and Jack to the NHL). This isn’t to say that Luke is an overly physical player, but he will put his size to good use when the situation calls for it.
While physicality is an edge that Luke has over his brothers, Jack and Quinn are both more impressive in terms of puck skills, and both were stronger in that aspect of their respective games in their draft years as well. That said, it is no insult to say that any prospect is as dazzling a player of the puck as were Jack or Quinn Hughes. Luke has nothing to be ashamed of in terms of his skill game, either. He makes quick decisions and can capitalize if the opposing defense gives him too much room to operate. He can play the puck at a high pace and has a real knack for spotting tight seams and executing on tricky passing plays to open teammates in more dangerous positions. Luke’s shot is also a solid weapon, which he utilizes from the blueline on in.
With a few months of play still to go, Luke Hughes is actually more reminiscent of a player like last year’s USNTDP stud, Jake Sanderson, than anyone in his immediate family. Even though his current mark of 1.3 points-per-game in USHL play leads all USNTDP players – U17 and U18 – who have played in at least 10 games, his appeal is as a talented defender who can play a two-way game, at least to the extent that he would not need to be tethered to a defensive defenseman at the highest level. Committed to attend the University of Michigan next season, I can easily see the youngest Hughes being a one-and-done player at the collegiate level, as many top five talents tend to be.
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Prospects in the News – Future Wild star arrives in North America
Kirill Kaprizov, LW-R, 23 years old, 5’ 10” 200 lbs
2020-21 Minnesota Wild, NHL 11GP-3G-6A-9PTS
2019-20 CSKA Moscow, KHL, 57GP-33G-29A-62PTS
When people look at where Kaprizov was picked by the Wild, in the fifth round (135th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft, they usually think that it is a case similar to Nikita Kucherov's situation, but it wasn't exactly that way. Obviously, the so-called "Russian factor" was still there in 2015 and contributed to Kaprizov's fall down the draft order, yet it wasn't as strong as it was in Kucherov's draft year, since the success of the new Russian kids on the block (Tarasenko, Kuznetsov, Kucherov, Vasilevskiy) had already been putting the Russian factor supporters to shame.
The real reason for Kaprizov's low draft position was that back then he was labeled as a "good kid, but nothing special" and it was somewhat understandable: he wasn't considered among the elite talents of his age group and even on the U18 Team Russia he had a mostly complementary role. Additionally, he didn't have any outstanding tools: neither skating nor shot were remarkable, and the physicality was clearly not there yet. What was outstanding was his KHL point production. Even without those notable tools he was able to produce at the level of high-end talents, which caused some suspicion that there could be something more interesting here.
The ability to adjust and quickly make the required progress to his game was something Kaprizov excelled at and his coaches praised. After his draft year his progress was exponential. The following season he was among the leaders on his team. A year later, when he was traded to another KHL team and people were doubting his ability to play well away from his hometown team, he just answered those doubts by becoming a KHL superstar; on top of his impressive performance that year at the World Juniors. By that time, every prospect-following Wild fan understood that they had landed a top talent. Shortly after that realization, they received a bit of shock when Kaprizov was traded to KHL tycoons CSKA Moscow and deciding to extend with them for three seasons.
With a fresh start at CSKA, needing to prove everything all over again, and under considerable pressure (including the test of his first big money contract and the attendant popularity), how did Kaprizov answer? As usual — by exceeding all expectations: KHL championship, Olympic gold (including overtime winner in the final) and raising his KHL superstar status to true dominance. A dynamic goal scorer, creative passer, standing his ground physically, caring about defensive responsibilities, delivering results game in and game out — Kaprizov continued to develop his game during those years. No one could have seen that outcome back at the draft, but smarts and hard work can do wonders.
The KHL is a good league, but Kaprizov had become just too good for it, and Wild management were more than interested in getting him over to North America. Nobody was surprised when, in July 2020, he finally signed an entry-level contract. Once again, he faced some extra challenges ahead of him, as the usual adjustments to the new league and environment were made more complicated due to the pandemic. Kaprizov had to step onto the NHL ice without game practice for almost a year. Some might say that it is too early to judge how he has answered those challenges, but in these early days it would appear he did it in his usual way, by exceeding expectations. At this point there is a strong consensus opinion among the fans that the Wild organization has not had an attacking talent of his caliber since Marian Gaborik in his prime.
So far so good, but what can we expect going forward? This is a question that should not only be asked of Kaprizov but also of the Wild organization. They likely have a potential superstar on their hands, but Kaprizov's KHL years have shown that while he is fine on his own, his talent is much better utilized if given a good supporting cast — linemates who are able to understand what he is doing on the ice and adjust to that effectively. It is something management needs to keep in mind when building the team. If that is done properly, I'd say the NHL hasn't seen the best of Kirill Kaprizov yet.
PAST ROTOWORLD MCKEEN’S 2021 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT REPORTS – In this weekly column we cover an NHL Draft prospect. Check out what we have written to date here listed by our most recent ranking.
#1 - Matthew Beniers University of Michigan, C, 6’1” 175 lbs
#4 - Jesper Wallstedt, Lulea, Sweden, G, 6’3” 200lbs
#6 - Brandt Clarke, Nove Zamky, Slovakia, D, 6’1” 180 lbs