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Northeastern hockey star Jack Hughes awaits the NHL Draft. Will his father choose him?

Hughes (right), the youngest player in Division 1 ice hockey, is expected to be picked in the second round. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

As Northeastern freshman Jack Hughes looks forward to good news this week at the NHL Draft, he may feel as though he’s been waiting much of his life to hear his name called.

Hughes, an 18-year-old center, was raised in a hockey household that exposed him to the highest levels of the sport long before he enrolled at Northeastern as the youngest player in Division 1 hockey last season.

His brother and Northeastern teammate, Riley Hughes, a junior forward who earned the Huskies’ Unsung Hero Award as assistant captain last season, provided Jack with a role model to follow and compete against as they grew up in suburban Boston. Riley Hughes was a seventh-round pick by the New York Rangers in 2018.

Now it’s Jack’s turn. Adding an emotional layer to his NHL selection is the looming role of his father, Kent Hughes, who will be making the top pick of the draft in his new role as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens. No one expects Kent Hughes to choose his son No. 1 Thursday night. But there could be unusual drama in the draft’s next phase on Friday if the 6-foot, 165-pound Hughes goes in the second round, his anticipated landing spot, where his father happens to be holding the 33rd and 62nd picks overall.

“He said if I was the best available pick at the time or him and the staff felt that I was the best pick, he said he would take me,” Jack Hughes said of his father. “But he also said that he was going to try to stay away from it.”

Jack Hughes acknowledges that playing for his father’s team would add “a lot of extra pressure,” including accusations of favoritism.

“I think it would create some problems that wouldn’t normally happen,” Jack Hughes says. “But I wouldn’t really mind it; I wouldn’t be complaining if he drafted me. 

“I feel as if I’d be able to deal with it. I’d be fine. But I think as a dad he wants to protect me if he can.”

The contract negotiations would be interesting.

“He would probably try to take all my money,” Jack Hughes says, smiling.

Hughes makes that joke because his father was a long-time NHL agent. Among the players he represented was Patrice Bergeron, the 18-year star of the Boston Bruins, who used to visit for home-cooked meals. The hockey pedigree is obvious in Hughes’ play, says Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe.

“He’s got a maturity and a confidence to him, and I think a lot of that comes from the way he grew up,” Keefe says. “When they sat down for dinner, I’m sure a lot of the conversations were about hockey. I’m sure he and Riley spent a lot of time playing street hockey or in the basement, shooting pucks and stick handling.”

Their father coached Riley and Jack in youth hockey and he continues to send them NHL videos to help with their development.

“He’s taught me almost everything I know about hockey,” Jack Hughes says of his father. “He had me on skates when I was two years old. I definitely wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him.”

Jim Madigan, Northeastern’s athletic director who recruited the Hughes brothers in his 10 years as coach of the Huskies, notes that Kent Hughes was an All-American at Middlebury College in the 1990s.

“He’s had his dad as well as his older brother pushing him, and you learn the game differently in that kind of environment,” Madigan says. “Jack understands the nuances of the game and he’s got a really high compete level.”

Hughes’ freshman numbers weren’t startling—seven goals and 16 points while playing in all 39 games—but the context matters. He was often the lone NHL prospect on the ice when scouts watched the Huskies this season, Keefe notes.

“There was a lot of pressure on him that way,” Keefe says. “So I’m sure he’s going to be relieved.”

Hughes has shown little interest in chasing individual stats. He’s known for focusing on his team’s needs while performing at a high level in all phases—strengths that emerged in the final moments of a decisive game in March at Merrimack, where Hughes won a faceoff and then dug the puck out of the corner to teammate Aidan McDonough, whose game-winner with 9.5 seconds remaining earned a first Hockey East regular season championship for the Huskies and helped advance them to the NCAA tournament.

“The youngest kid on our team happens to find a way to make a big-time play in that moment,” Keefe says. “That’s a culmination of who he is as a player.”

He is often confused with the Jack Hughes who was the No. 1 NHL draft pick in 2019 by the New Jersey Devils. Northeastern’s Hughes took steps to set himself apart last month at the NHL Scouting Combine, finishing first among the prospects in a couple of strength tests and sixth in an agility drill. 

Regardless of where he is picked, Hughes is expected to emerge as a team leader as a sophomore for the Huskies.

“I could see Jack coming back as one of the best players in hockey,” Keefe says. “You can tell the body is starting to get stronger. He had a great combine and he’s going to come back that much more confident. He’s a kid that puts a little pressure on himself to be the best player on the ice. I think Jack Hughes makes a huge step next year.”

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