Quinn Hughes

Canucks risk ‘Russian Factor’ with Podkolzin at No. 10

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Hockey fans learned some answers to some interesting questions during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday.

  • Big players seemingly were valued more than small, as big center Kirby Dach surpassed his projections to go third overall to the Blackhawks, while spritely sniper Cole Caulfield slipped to the Canadiens at No. 15.
  • Spencer Knight did, indeed, become an increasingly rare first-round goalie when the Panthers snapped him up at 13.
  • The Red Wings answered the question of biggest reach, at least perception-wise, in shocking the crowd by getting Moritz Seider as early as sixth. Biggest steal is a matter of perception, as well, though Caulfield is in the conversation.
  • And, yes, a boatload of Americans – actually, the boat needs to be reasonably big – went in the first round. A record-breaking boat.

One lingering, annual question for draft is: how will “The Russian Factor” influence where a prospect goes. In the case of Vasili Podkolzin, the intriguing Russian forward went to the Vancouver Canucks at 10th overall.

As you can see from the video above, some Canucks fans were thrilled:

Others maybe had mixed feelings:

While plenty adorably chanted “Da,” as in yes, in welcoming Podkolzin.

Some fans might be concerned about “The Russian Factor.” In a nutshell, the concern with drafting some Russian players is that it can sometimes be difficult to control their development process, particularly when it comes to the threat of KHL contracts. It’s not just about the current CBA severely limiting what a player can make on entry-level deals, but that’s a factor when you consider the much stronger chances that a Russian player may eye the KHL.

That’s absolutely relevant with Podkolzin, who’s actually already on a KHL contract, and is expected to honor it for two more seasons.

Canucks GM Jim Benning didn’t seem too worried about that situation in discussing the pick with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shortly after it was made. Benning explained that, in the 10th spot, the player the Canucks picked would probably need two years of development, anyway.

Maybe that’s not true – NBC’s Pierre McGuire stated that an immediate leap wasn’t that far fetched if there weren’t restrictions – but overall, the Canucks have a point.

And they also have a tantalizing situation, as Podkolzin is often described as an explosive talent, setting the stage for Vancouver to have a dynamic talent base including Podkolzin, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes. That must be exciting for Canucks fans, and fans of exciting hockey as a whole.

Interestingly, though, Podkolzin isn’t just a test case for whether teams should be worried about “The Russian Factor” of struggling to get a prospect to the NHL. This could also be a litmus test regarding scouts seeing big skills and potential, versus those who believe that teams are too quick to overlook the numbers.

In a June 12 column about prospects to avoid, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler voiced some concern about Podkolzin’s spotty production (sub required), at least when it came to him landing in the top 10:

Podkolzin, as I’ve written since my preliminary ranking last fall, is a player who catches your eye because he appears heavily involved in games physically and heavily involved in the offence through the way he attacks with the puck, but doesn’t often enough make plays that result in positive outcomes. There’s a difference between catching your eye and winning hockey games. And instincts can only take you so far. I’m all for players who attempt to make plays but there’s a level of awareness required to become a great player at the next level and I fear that Podkolzin may be limited to an energizing third-line role without a steep development of that skill in the next few seasons.

Now, it’s important to realize that Wheeler still penciled in Podkolzin as being worth picking in the 13-20 range, so even those with some mild misgivings believe in him as a prospect.

Overall, there are enough wrinkles to make the Podkolzin pick very interesting.

Frankly, the Canucks have made a lot of puzzling decisions over the years, from a slew of shaky signings in free agency, to the disconcerting notion of adding Peter Chiarelli to a front office that already seems to march the beat of the wrong drummer. Yet, the one area where they’ve had some big recent successes is the draft. Calling Elias Pettersson at fifth overall a steal might feel weird, but you can bet that the Flyers wish they could have gotten him at second instead of Nolan Patrick. (Sorry Nolan.) Brock Boeser was a heist at 23rd in 2015, and Quinn Hughes sure looks like the right call at seventh overall from last year.

Considering that the Canucks got relatively weak draft lottery luck in landing the 10th pick this year, fans have to be absolutely delighted that Vancouver selected Podkolzin. Especially with some of the peculiar decisions that were made before and after they selected at No. 10.

There are ways this can go wrong, however, making Podkolzin’s development very interesting to watch.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Draft 2019: Jack Hughes ready for rest after busy year

ST. LOUIS — It’s been a pretty busy year for Jack Hughes as the 2019 NHL Draft approaches (June 21-22; NBCSN).

The projected No. 1 overall pick played 74 games between the USA U-18s and U.S. National Team Development Program, as well as seven games at the U-18 World Championship, four games at the World Junior Championship, and seven more with the senior men’s team at the World Championship. 

After competing at the senior Worlds in Slovakia, Hughes then shuttled off to Buffalo for the NHL Combine last week. On Monday, he was in St. Louis along with four other top draft prospects to attend Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. They were able to meet players from both the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues and enjoy some downtime.

“I think the next couple weeks will be pretty important for me to just relax, play some golf, hang out, decompress a little bit, and just be a kid because come June 21st my life will change a lot,” Hughes said.

The New Jersey Devils own the first pick in the draft and it’s expected that general manager Ray Shero will select the 18-year-old forward. Fellow top prospect Kaapo Kakko, who will likely land with the New York Rangers at No. 2, put on a show for Finland as they won gold at the Worlds last month. The idea that both top picks will be playing not only in the division but the same market excites Hughes.

“I think it’ll be really competitive for a lot of years,” Hughes said. “Whether it’s the Devils or Rangers, we’re going to be linked to each other for a long time with us going to places so close to each other. Maybe a little bit of a rivalry between the Devils and Rangers. I think it’ll be a lot of fun for years to come.”

When asked if the prospect of that rivalry would motivate him, Hughes said he didn’t need any extra motivation while playing against the NHL’s best every night.

“You’re playing Crosby, you’re playing O’Reilly, you’re playing unbelievable players every night,” he said.

Representing Team USA at the Worlds, Hughes, who noted he has a relationship with Taylor Hall, got to meet a likely future teammate in Devils goaltender Cory Schneider and head coach John Hynes. The experience allowed him to get his feet wet playing against pros and players he’ll be lining up across for years to come. 

Hughes, who grew up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan while his dad, Jim, worked as Director of Player Development, for the team, will join brother Quinn as NHL draftees in just a few weeks. The Vancouver Canucks selected Quinn No. 7 overall last year. In two years, younger brother Luke will likely join them.

The hype and long road to the NHL Draft will end in a little over two weeks. The pressure will only increase once he puts on the jersey of his new team, and Hughes is ready to embrace his next step in hockey as the likely No. 1 pick.

“I think it’ll be special,” Hughes said. “Worked a lot of years for this, so if it does end up being that it’ll be an awesome moment.”

MORE: Jack, Luke, and Quinn Hughes grow up together with hockey

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Undersized Hughes stands out as top NHL draft prospect

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Dan Marr will never forget the first time Jack Hughes landed on his radar as a potential top NHL draft prospect.

It happened last summer, when the NHL Central Scouting director was attending a skills camp in Toronto.

After listing New Jersey’s Taylor Hall, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and then-Islanders captain John Tavares as the best three players on the ice, Marr added: “The next best player was Jack Hughes.”

Even at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Marr said the 17-year-old stood out for a variety of reasons.

“It was a series of drills that they were doing that involved skating, quickness, speed, execution, precision. And right away you could see he already has an NHL shot,” Marr said Friday, speaking at the NHL’s annual pre-draft scouting combine being held in Buffalo. “So he’s got the talent that he belongs in that group.”

Very little has happened to change Marr or anyone else’s mind since.

From Orlando, Florida, Hughes is Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater after spending the past two seasons setting USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s record by combining for 228 points (74 goals, 154 assists) in 110 games.

Finland’s Kaapo Kakko is the top-ranked European skater after completing a season in which he helped his nation complete a gold-medal sweep of international titles by winning the world championship last weekend, the world junior title in January and the Under-18 title last year.

The two are projected to be selected with one of the two top picks – the Devils select first followed by the New York Rangers – at the NHL draft at Vancouver, British Columbia on June 21-22.

After joking he’d look good in either a red Devils’ or blue Rangers’ jersey, Hughes said he’d obviously prefer to go first.

“You always dream of being No. 1,” Hughes said. “You don’t dream of being two, three or four when you’re a young kid.”

Hughes is also aware of how he and Kakko will draw comparisons with the likelihood of the two playing on Metropolitan Division rivals.

“We’ll be linked to each other for a lot of years with the Rangers and Devils right there,” Hughes said.

Kakko is not attending the combine because the weeklong event, which includes player-team interviews and medical testing, began a day after Finland beat Canada to win the world championships in Slovakia on Sunday.

“It has zero affect really,” Marr said about Kakko’s absence. “I think the teams understand that. And the teams at the top, they’re just going to have to spend a little bit more time with him when he comes over for the draft.”

The two players differ in size and style of play.

At 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, Kakko is known for his goal-scoring ability and considered more of a power forward.

He led Finland with six goals in 10 games at the World Championship. His 22 goals in the Finnish Elite League last season were the most by a draft-eligible player.

Hughes is a swift-skating, play-making center. He comes from a hockey family. His brother Quinn Hughes is a defenseman who was selected by Vancouver with the No. 7 pick in the draft last year. His father, Jim Hughes, is a former hockey coach, who also served as the Toronto Maple Leafs director of player development.

Hughes credits the time he spend playing youth hockey in Toronto as playing a key role in his development.

“Toronto’s probably the capital of the hockey world. You win the Greater Toronto Hockey League finals, you think it’s the Stanley Cup,” he said. “Do I think I’d be the player I am today without Toronto? Probably not. … That’s the reason I’m here today.”

Hughes also played at the worlds and finished with four assists in four games for the United States, which was eliminated by Russia in the quarterfinal round.

Among the highlights was getting the opportunity to play with NHL stars such as Chicago’s Patrick Kane.

Hughes grew up idolizing Kane as they’re both under-sized forwards who play a similar style.

It came as a shock to Hughes upon hearing Kane pay him a compliment by telling NHL.com he believes Hughes “does a lot of things better than me.”

“You almost think he’s full of (baloney),” Hughes said, before listing the three Stanley Cups and numerous other awards Kane has won. “You name it, he’s got it. To hear your name out of his mouth is one thing. To hear him say those nice things about you truly shows how good of a person he is.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PHT Morning Skate: Mrazek set for Game 1 return?; Holland knew it was Yzerman’s time

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here’s the NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for May 9

• The Hurricanes could be getting a big boost back between the pipes for the Eastern Conference Final. (NHL.com)

• Newly-minted Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland knew it was time for Steve Yzerman to come home to Detroit. (Sportsnet)

Brad Marchand took a page out of Bill Belichick’s book when dealing with the media on Wednesday. [Bruins Daily]

Matt Duchene says staying in Columbus would be a ‘great thing.’ (Sportsnet)

• NHL analysts agree: Red Wings rebuild is on the right path. (The Detroit News)

• The Oilers should finally hire Todd Nelson. (Edmonton Journal)

Corey Crawford set to be behind wheel of IndyCar 500 pace car. (GM Authority)

• Want to save women’s pro hockey? ‘Equity tax’ the NHL’s millionaires. (Financial Post)

Quinn Hughes is happy with his progress as he heads into his second Worlds. (The Hockey News)

• Rangers wasting no time reloading. (Flo Hockey)

• Here’s a list of seven teams that could threaten to offer sheet a superstar. (Sportsnet)

• What should the Penguins do with their first-round pick? (Pensburgh)

• Does it make sense to bring back Jordie Benn? (Eyes on the Prize)

• Oilers GM search offers a unique perspective. (Montreal Gazette)

• If P.K. Subban was to be traded, what could come back to Nashville? (The Athletic)

• Making sense of the Philadelphia Flyers coaching picture. (Puck Prose)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Quinn Hughes made quite the debut for Canucks

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When Quinn Hughes joined Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser on the ice during 3-on-3 overtime for Vancouver on Thursday, you couldn’t really blame Canucks fans for thinking “The future is now.”

(Granted, they might have thought that in a less-cliched, but maybe more profanity-laced way. Depending upon the specific Canucks fan, of course.)

Hughes made his NHL debut during Vancouver’s 3-2 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings, and showed why fans were chanting “We want Hughes!” before his first shift. The 19-year-old didn’t disappoint, either, showing why people think he was a steal as the seventh overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Hughes grabbing an assist in the game wasn’t promising merely because he already produced offense. Instead, it really encapsulated a lot of the reasons people think he’s going to be a big deal. During the play, he absolutely bamboozled Trevor Lewis with his excellent skating and anticipation, banking the puck to himself, and then letting go a shot that created a juicy rebound. Brock Boeser then fired it home, so this was very much a primary assist by Hughes:

And that 3-on-3 OT sequence seemed like a portal into a future — a future where Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes give opponents fits.

Hughes’ skating and scoring ability seem like they’ll translate incredibly well to the modern NHL game, and that showed on Thursday.

It’s also a reminder that, while this ranks as another painful season for the Canucks, it’s tough to dismiss the feeling of hope in Vancouver. For all GM Jim Benning has done wrong – and the list isn’t necessarily small – it sure seems like he’s hit it out of the park multiple times with draft picks, at least in the first round.

And while the Canucks dynamic duo/tremendous trio weren’t exactly lingering in the late rounds of drafts, these weren’t necessarily layup picks like, say, selecting Sidney Crosby first and Evgeni Malkin after Alex Ovechkin.

  • Boeser, 22, went 23rd overall in 2015. The Canucks’ hated foes the Bruins had three opportunities to pick Boeser. Also, Boeser was selected after the likes of Pavel Zacha, Evgeny Svechnikov, and Joel Eriksson Ek. (Sorry, fans of the several teams who whiffed especially badly there.)
  • It feels strange to call the fifth pick of the 2017 NHL Draft a “steal,” especially this early … but Pettersson already looks like a star at 20. If there was a re-draft, Pettersson would go ahead of Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, Miro Heiskanen, and Cale Makar … right? He certainly would last as long as fifth.
  • Hughes, 19, went seventh. The opening picks of that draft have made remarkable impacts already, from obvious guys like Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov, to players who maybe had to scrape for their positions in Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brady Tkachuk. Hughes might not be a “steal” like the other two, but the Canucks would still prosper if he merely ends up being a really useful player.

It’s tantalizing, then, to wonder how much the Canucks may skip in line if they hit another homer in the first round, this time in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft.

From a fun headlines standpoint, you wouldn’t be able to top the Canucks getting projected top pick Jack Hughes to join his brother Quinn. That’s possible, although unlikely — via the Push for the Playoffs, you can see that Vancouver’s draft lottery odds currently stand at just six percent.

In the likely event that Vancouver doesn’t win the draft lottery, the Canucks have shown that they can make the most of a first-rounder, even when it’s not at the absolute top of a draft. (At least lately, as the jury’s still out on players like Olli Juolevi, who went fifth in 2016.)

Honestly, even if the results are more modest this time around, the future seems brighter every time a new gem is added to the mix, and Hughes looks like he might continue that trend. This trio should also make the Canucks a lot more fun to watch in the present while they build toward that future.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.