Building off a strong second half and incredible run in the NCAA Frozen Four, Coach Mel Pearson’s Michigan Hockey Wolverines should be national title contenders heading into 2018-19. Those chances greatly improved over the weekend when star defensemen Quinn Hughes opted to return to college and put off his NHL career at least one more season. The superb skilled skater was drafted seventh overall by the Vancouver Canucks after an impressive 29-point freshman season, which is a record point total for a first year blueliner. This news is a win for all involved—the Wolverines, the Canucks, and most importantly, Hughes. Hughes makes EVERYONE better.
With or without Hughes, Michigan returns a lot. This team is already junior-heavy and has players throughout the lineup who have played large roles with big minutes and production. The defense has returnees led by captain Joe Cecconi, Luke Martin, Nick Boka, and Griffin Luce. Hughes makes these guys better. The incredibly successful first line for the Wolverines is all gone but a fully healthy Will Lockwood joins Jake Slacker, Josh Norris, Brandon Warren, and Jack Becker in a talented forward group. The Pastujov brothers—Michael and Nick—plus Dakota Raabe and James Sanchez also showed up big late in the 2018 campaign. And reports have transfer Luke Morgan starring at the recent Detroit Red Wings development camp. Hughes makes these guys better.
Hughes NHL team—the Canucks—are in rebuild mode from the Sedins-Luongo era. They have some young pieces up front and eight NHL defensemen under contract. Six play. This is not ideal for a kid defenseman who needs to play and play big minutes. The puck and games find talent. Hughes has talent. He is an NHL skater today. Coach Pearson has seen some guys in his day. He claims his returning blueliner has some of the best wheels he has seen. Kathy and I had Mel on our podcast in the PRESEASON and he talked up his new blueliner. BEFORE coaching him. He came as advertised. Hughes makes his coaches better.
This process and decision worked out. Hughes followed his heart and head. He knows he can play in the NHL. He has played for Michigan. And he liked it. A lot. But he has unfinished business here. Two games short was enough to send the kid back to Ann Arbor and Yost. Vancouver can wait. A national title can’t. The Canucks wait will be worth it when they get a better, more mature player who follows fellow college star defensemen Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy paths to the NHL after their sophomore seasons. That’s the plan and it should work out well for Quinn, the Canucks, and the Wolverines. Because Hughes makes things better.