Ahead of the NHL Draft, the other Jack Hughes is coming into his own

Like many kids who go out on Halloween, Jack Hughes wanted to dress up as a hockey player. It was a simple costume and it made sense. Jack’s father, Kent, was a players’ agent, and when his mother, Deena, was working, Kent often took the kids to games – AHL, NCAA, ECHL – no matter what rink was close enough to get them out of the house.

That Halloween night, the Hughes kids were ecstatic. Riley, the eldest, scoured their Westwood, Massachusetts neighborhood for candy as Batman. Sister Morgan went dressed as Tinkerbell. According to Deena, the traditional cry of “Trick or treat!” has been replaced with “I’m a hockey man!” of Jack, then just a toddler, in his tiny Bruins uniform from his hometown.

Especially with the kids, Kent had his hands full as Jack was gassed with excitement early on which meant carrying his little scorer from door to door.

“He didn’t even bother getting candy,” Riley Hughes said. “He just wanted to tell everyone he’s a hockey player.”

He may not be as vocal as he was trick-or-treating this year, but Jack Hughes has been telling people he’s a hockey player ever since. And this week, at the NHL Draft in Montreal, where Hughes is a predicted top pick, everyone else will know he’s a hockey player, too.

In its final rankings, the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau ranked Hughes 26th among North American skaters after placing seventh in the midterms. That season at Northeastern, where he was a true freshman, Hughes was the youngest player in the NCAA. He played 39 games for the Huskies, finishing the tournament with seven goals and 16 points. According to Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe, Hughes played about 18 to 20 minutes a night and in almost every situation, even though he started college season at 17.

Despite his age, Keefe said he’s never shied away from putting Jack on the ice against much older competitors thanks to his high-end skills.

Hughes on Halloween (photo courtesy of Deena Hughes)

“He’s a really big competitor,” Keefe said. “He has a great instinct for his game. He can play in many different ways – he’s an extremely gifted playmaker, but he still has a very good instinct on how to check, his positioning on the ice is really good. At the end of the day he’s a hockey player and he’s a winner. He has a great feel for the game.”

Riley Hughes, a junior at Northeastern, said he always knew Jack had the skills to play NCAA, but wondered how his brother’s 6-foot, 169-pound frame would hold up against players many years his senior would. Riley, who has been sidelined several games this season through injury, has been able to watch Jack in the stands as both a teammate and a fan. He remembers a case in which Jack played against a player eight years his senior.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, that shouldn’t be allowed,'” said Riley, a New York Rangers seventh-round pick in 2018. “Jack didn’t give a fuck, the guy pushed him and he pushed back. That was the biggest thing I realized – I knew he had the hockey IQ and skills to play – I just didn’t know he had that guts and that ‘I don’t care’ mentality.”

But some of that mentality was honed at home with Riley’s help, where little was rarely given in the extremely competitive Hughes household. All three children played hockey, and Morgan and Jack were also particularly good at lacrosse. Riley had the age and height advantage, but that wasn’t going to stop Jack – it just spurred him on to get better.

“I definitely took a lot of beatings,” said Jack Hughes, laughing. “If you ask my siblings, they’d probably say I’m the favorite kid just because I was the baby.

“He was my biggest role model and got me where I want to be. Whatever Riley did, I wanted to do it.”

That also meant following his brother to Northeastern, where they played organized hockey together for the first time. The brothers were also linemates for a 10-game stint before being separated. Keefe recalls a game that season where the Hughes brothers had a two-to-zero advantage.

‘It was like, ‘Who’s going to shoot the puck?'” Keefe said. “I remember showing that in a video, which was kind of funny.”

Did they score at least one goal in the play?

“No they didn’t,” Keefe said, laughing.

And as with this piece, Jack Hughes still has room for improvement. Corresponding the athleteCorey Proman’s skating, Hughes, is a work in progress and needs improvement for the NHL jump.

“Hughes lacks ideal pace for the NHL, and pace at higher levels will be his main test,” Pronman wrote. “He competes well enough. He won’t run over guys, but he’s in charge of the puck and doesn’t shy away from physical play.

Hughes has heard that from scouts before — most recently at the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo, NY, where it was brought up by multiple teams.

At the combine, the center polled several teams, including the Montreal Canadiens, where Kent Hughes now serves as general manager after being hired in January.

Their meeting was somewhat awkward, as the elder Hughes withdrew from the process, only to be called back to attend by Martin Lapointe, the director of player personnel and amateur scouting. According to Hughes, his dad didn’t ask any questions about what was fine with him as nobody knows his game better than his dad.

Kent Hughes coached Jack from the time he was old enough to skate almost until he left home to join the US National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Mich. Done in the game overall. They watched TV games together as a family and Kent would often break down pieces for the children. It hasn’t stopped since the kids left home either. Now he’ll get Deena to record him breaking down every game he watches – complete with slow-mo and pauses – to spread.

“It takes forever to watch a game because he stops and says, ‘Watch this! Look at that,'” said Deena Hughes. “I’m going to video it and send it to the kids to make it look like it came from me, but they know it’s not.”

Having a family so immersed in the game — especially at such a high level — hasn’t always been easy for Hughes’ youngest sibling.

“He was my coaching father agent at the same time,” Hughes said, laughing. “It was definitely harder when I was younger. By the time I was about 13 I was getting a lot better and I didn’t want to listen to my dad that much anymore. He’s been involved with hockey his whole life and to this day I think he’s the smartest hockey brain I know. We clashed when I was younger but I’m glad he was my coach for most of my life.

“He was hard on me but that was because he knew I had a lot in me. I am grateful for that.”

Deena Hughes is actively trying to discourage people from entering the NHL Draft in Montreal – even members of her own family. Deena and Kent met in Montreal when they were in fifth grade. In the Beaconsfield neighborhood of West Island, their homes were less than five minutes’ walk from each other.

Their respective families still have these homes, and the Hughes children spent many summers and Christmases in Montreal with their relatives. However, as the wife of a former agent, she knows the NHL draft better than most. Nothing is guaranteed on draft day and the selection process can be volatile. She’s seen the long waits, the slides down the board, the television cameras trained on worried faces and, in some cases, the tears of disappointment skipped entirely.

“It’s stressful and it’s not that much fun and it takes a long time,” Deena said. “Most of the time it’s a bad experience and then it’s good when you get drafted. I try to discourage as many people as possible, but so many people want to come.”

Kent Hughes has already made it clear – in a highly public manner – that he will not pick Jack with Montreal’s No. 1 on Friday.

“Jack (Hughes) will not be our No. 1 pick overall,” the Habs GM told NHL Draft Lottery reporters. “I can promise you that.”

Jack’s response to his father’s comments – written with the approval of his mother and siblings – went viral and showcased his sense of humor.

‘TThe way he said it, it was like, ‘Obviously we’re not going to take you,’” Jack said. “I found that a bit harsh.”

In the long run, it could be a blessing considering the No. 1 pick from the New Jersey Devils was Jack Hughes in 2019. The pair are already dealing with a good deal of confusion. Northeastern’s Jack Hughes playing with Luke Hughes – the brother of the other Jack Hughes – at the USNTDP only adds to the confusion. Jack Hughes of the Devils also played for USNTDP but went to the NHL when the other Jack Hughes joined the program. There’s no relationship between the two hockey Hugheses, but that hasn’t stopped people from regularly confusing them. Riley said there were times when he was mistaken for Quinn Hughes, the third Hughes brother and a defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks.

“Sometimes it baffles me how confused other people are,” said Jack Hughes, born in 2003, whose middle name is Dylan. “I think people aren’t that confused that there are two Sebastian Ahos or two Elias Pettersons. It’s definitely a fun coincidence.”

According to drafter Jack Hughes, he and NHL draftman Jack Hughes have met a few times before, but they’ve never discussed sharing the same name and love of hockey. Regardless, Jack Hughes will be happy to have his name mentioned in the draft, although he admits it won’t be what he envisioned because his father won’t be in the stands with him.

“IIt’s definitely going to be different,” Jack said. “It’s not going to be what I imagined when I was a little kid.”

It’s also going to be exciting because it’s the first draft Deena will attend in person after years of watching the event on TV (she wasn’t even in Riley’s draft in 2018). Not having Kent with him was one of the first things she thought of when he decided to take the job in Montreal.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to be physically present in the first draft and you’re not going to be with us?’ Come on,” she said, laughing. “Jack is so easy going it’s not going to be a big deal. I can guarantee you that Kent will find him and hug him.”

Kent will be sitting on the floor at the Canadiens’ table in his first draft as Montreal’s GM, and that only adds to the excitement for the whole family.

“I’m just glad we’re all here to watch,” Jack said. “Watch my dad make some moves there in the draft and hopefully get picked too.”

(Top Photo: John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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