Likely No. 1 Pick Jack Hughes Already Impressing Jeff Blashill: 'He Could Be Special'

The Wings have a shot at landing him in the draft.

Jamie and Stoney
February 07, 2019 - 11:10 pm

© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

If Jeff Blashill isn't at Little Caesars Arena, on the road with the Red Wings or stealing a moment at home with his family, there's a good chance you'll find him at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth. It's the home of the U.S. National Team Development Program and currently that of Jack Hughes, the presumptive first overall pick in the NHL Draft this June. 

"I know the coaching staff and both those teams over there very well," said Blashill, who's worn several coaching hats for USA Hockey himself. "I spend a lot of time over there." 

Hughes, a center for the U-18 team, has 56 points in 28 games this season. He's said to have NHL-ready talent -- franchise-altering talent. The Red Wings are among those teams who have a shot at drafting him.

He's sidelined with an undisclosed injury at the moment, but whenever Blashill catches Hughes in action the coach likes what he sees. Of course he does. 

"I’ve seen them play a few times, I’ve certainly seen them practice a number of times as well. ... I’ll say this, for sure. Jack is a young guy who is driven to be great, who loves hockey, who has a passion for hockey. I think he’s ultimately going to maximize his potential. He’s got an excellent skillset, dynamic," Blashill told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.

If there's anything about Hughes that gives Blashill pause -- and most scouts would agree -- it's his size. Hughes is listed on the U.S. roster at 5'10, 178 lbs. Patrick Kane, for comparison, checks in at 5'10, 177. Of course, Hughes doesn't turn 18 until May. 

"He’s in a smaller-frame body, and sometimes it takes times to add the needed strength to be able to create the space that you need in the NHL. You never know for sure on that," Blashill said. "But he’s got a chance to be a real good player."

There's nothing that says small players can't succeed in the NHL. In fact, in a league that favors speed and skill more than ever, size seems to matter less and less. Kane is the NHL's second leading scorer this season. Johnny Gaudreau, all 5'9, 165 lbs. of him, is tied for fourth. The list of diminutive stars -- Brayden Point, Brad Marchand, etc. -- goes on. 

For players with a disadvantage in size, it's about having the quickness, elusiveness and smarts to make up for it -- all qualities that Hughes is said to possess. 

He performed well at the World Junior Championship last month for a U.S. team that won silver, and he'll get another chance to shine at the U-18 World Championships in April. Blashill believes that will go a long way toward cementing Hughes' status as the best player on the draft board. 

"In the end, I’m sure he’s going to be a real good player. How good? He could be a special player. You just never know until they get to the (next) level," he said. 

If the season ended today, the Red Wings would have the third best odds of winning the draft lottery at 11.5 percent. (The team with the best odds will have about an 18.5 percent chance.) They'd have to jump two teams -- Ottawa and New Jersey -- to grab the first overall pick.

If they're so lucky, Hughes will be there waiting.