Many of Quinn Hughes’ new teammates on the Vancouver Canucks know all about the giant life transition the young defenceman is about to make.
The 19-year-old signed a three-year entry-level deal with the organization on Sunday.
The Canucks (28-32-9) picked Hughes seventh overall at the 2018 NHL draft, but he opted to play a second season at the University of Michigan this year before turning pro.
The five-foot-10, 170-pound blueliner had five goals and 28 assists in 31 games for the Wolverines this season, but the team was knocked out of the NCAA playoffs by the University of Minnesota on Saturday.
Now Hughes could see some NHL action this season.
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Vancouver’s final 13 games of the year will provide a huge opportunity for the teen, said right-winger Brock Boeser, one of a handful of Canucks who jumped to the team after finishing a season of college hockey.
“When I played those nine games (in 2017), it proved to me how fast the game is and how strong guys are and stuff like that. You go into summer knowing what you have to do to be ready for a full NHL season,” said Boeser, who played two seasons at the University of North Dakota.
Centre Adam Gaudette had just wrapped his third season at Northeastern University last year when he was signed with the Canucks.
He’d just won the NCAA award for the best player in Division I hockey when he slotted into Vancouver’s lineup for five games and said the time was a whirlwind full of big lessons.
“It’s a small sample size but it helps a whole heck of a lot,” he said.
When Hughes joins the team next week, Gaudette’s advice to him will be simple.
“Just take it all in. Don’t let it slip by. Just enjoy it,” he said. “You’re here for the end of the season, just enjoy it and get adjusted and then when it’s time to come back next season, you’ve really got to get after it.”
For defenceman Troy Stecher, the biggest difference between playing college hockey at the University of North Dakota and joining the Canucks was the personalities in the locker room.
The native of Richmond, B.C., was now sitting amongst players he’d grown up watching, including Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
“That was the biggest thing,” Stecher said. “I think from afar you kind of look at the NHL and you’re like ‘Well, there’s a superstar.’ But at the end of the day, we’re all just a group of guys that are fortunately pretty good at a sport. The camaraderie in the room is a lot of fun to be around and that was the thing I was kind of blown away by, how normal everybody was.”
When, exactly, Hughes will make his Canucks debut remains to be seen. He’s expected to arrive in Vancouver on Tuesday and the team hosts the New York Rangers on Wednesday, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be in the lineup.
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Coach Travis Green said on Sunday that he hopes Hughes’ transition from college hockey to pro will be clean and quick.
“He’s an exciting part of our future and I’m hoping that I get to see him sooner rather than later,” he said.
“I plan on getting him in (the lineup) if he’s here, that’s for sure. I want to play him as much as I can.”
Some Vancouver hockey fans caught a glimpse of the young star when the city hosted the world junior hockey championships in January.
Hughes and his younger brother Jack — a 17-year-old forward tapped to be one of the top picks at this year’s draft — helped team USA to a silver medal at the tournament.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a statement on Sunday that Hughes was a leader on his college team and has had success at the international level.
“Quinn is an exceptional skater, strong on the puck and plays with creativity and vision,” he said. “We’re excited for (him) to join our team and continue to grow his game as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.”