The burden of No. 1 draft pick hype hasn’t slowed Jack Hughes down
The consensus — at this stage — top pick for the 2019 NHL Draft has had an overwhelmingly successful season.
All while dealing with the pressures of being the projected No. 1 selection, too.
Those closest to him have seen it up close.
“I think it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster,” said John Wroblewski, who coaches Hughes with the United States National Team Development Program.
“I think going into this season…I use the word overwhelming in regards to the media attention and the requests that he was getting, I think to the point of suffocation. I think it hindered his play in the early going. There was a lot of pressure that he put on himself.
“The time we got over to the 5 Nations tournament in November, the media requests went away and it was all about hockey. The next thing you know is he had 16 points in four games. That allowed Jack to realize how much fun it is to be on this team and to be with his best buddies playing hockey and not being able to step away and realize the draft is what it is.
“I think that was a really good eye-opener for him and for the team.”
For as long as scouts and pundits have been discussing the 2019 draft class, they’ve been discussing Hughes.
Dissecting the 5-foot-10, 168-pound center, too.
Rarely, though, is it the other way around.
“I never hear anything about the draft with him,” said Alex Turcotte, Hughes’ teammate and a potential top-10 pick in 2019. “No one is really talking about it too much on our team.
“He’s a great leader. He gets along with everyone. I’m really good buddies with him. I have a lot of fun with him. He’s just a really nice guy. He’s all team-first.
“He’s not talking about it.
“I wouldn’t say ignore it, but just kind of have fun with it and see where it goes. I don’t think there’s any pressure. We’re all just having fun and enjoying it really.”
There’s a hype around Hughes, and justifiably so.
He’s the owner of the NTDP points record with 198 points (63 goals, 198 assists) over 99 games in two seasons with the Under-17 and Under-18 programs, eclipsing the previous record of Clayton Keller, who amassed 189 points (71 goals, 118 assists) in 123 games.
There’s a buzz whenever Hughes is brought up.
“I think he’s got a really good IQ,” said Alex Vlasic, a defenseman who could also go in the first round in June.
“He’s a battler in the corners, for sure. I think the best thing about his game and the best attribute he has is his skating. You put him in a corner or you get him doing crossovers, he has a lot of the same skill as Connor McDavid has when it comes to skating. The way he’s able to go left to right or change direction without losing speed is unbelievable. It’s super hard to stay on him when he’s in his crossovers and cuts to the middle or cuts to the outside.
“Great guy. He’ll go out of his way to help someone else. He goofs around with the boys every once and a while, but when it comes time for the drop of the puck, he’s making sure everyone’s dialed in and ready to go. He’s the captain.
“He’s taken that role really well this year.”
“From week-to-week there’s something new,” Wroblewski said.
“I think with Jack, I just keep revisiting his love for the work part of the game, whether it’s a backchecking drill or something that’s a little bit more demanding. He gets right back up in the line. If he’s keeled over tired, he somehow finds a way to hop right back into the line when other guys are dog-tired.
“His persistence and his motor are just non-stop once he’s on the ice.”
And, of course, by scouts.
But that hasn’t gone to Hughes’ head.
Top prospect status hasn’t swelled the potential top pick in 2019.
“I think he’s handled it extremely well,” Vlasic said. “I think a lot of guys would get a little bit cocky or overly confident when they start hearing all this news about themselves. I think he’s handled it really well.
“He’s staying humble.
“He’s one of the hardest workers on our team. It’s not like he’s given up on trying.
“He continues to want to be the best.”