Sean McCann reflects on coaching Jack Hughes at the USHS level and how the new LA Kings prospect stands out.
Entering the 2019 Draft, the LA Kings were among many teams vying to earn the privilege to draft the consensus first-overall pick, Jack Hughes. But while the Kings missed out that year, they were able to draft Jack Hughes three years later – albeit a different human being altogether.
After a quiet Day 1 at this past week’s Draft. Day 2 for the LA Kings was more eventful. They started their day with the 51st-overall pick – using it to select the aforementioned Hughes.
For some, the youngster is garnering headlines for being the son of current Montreal Canadiens GM, Kent Hughes. For many more, however, it’s what the younger Hughes has established for himself. It is something that is garnering him a plethora of critical attention.
In recent years, the 18-year-old has developed into a quality player thanks largely to his time with the USNTDP and this past season at Northeastern University. But the 2018-19 year was just as, if not more, noteworthy for Hughes. That year, he played for and succeeded at, St. Sebastian’s School in the prestigious USHS-Prep league.
I recently had the chance to speak with Sean McCann, Hughes’ head coach from St. Sebastian’s, who delved into a multitude of areas in the youngster’s game. He began with his first impressions of the new LA Kings prospect as a player.
“The first impression I had to Jack was just a very intense, attentive type of player,” McCann noted. “He was someone who was eager not only to help the team have success but also to learn and grow as a player.”
As far as dealing with him off the ice, McCann had fond reflections. He was not hesitant to admit just how easy it was to teach the Westwood, MA, native.
“He was kind of a sponge,” the coach added. “Every time you talk to him, he was always listening. He was always trying to gather information and use that information to improve his game as a way to help the team. Jack was just a hungry type of player and that’s what I’d describe him as. He was a very quiet type of kid but one that had a good demeanor and a positive approach.”
Glowing testimonials of Hughes, though, went beyond the coach.
“He was a kid who was really happy at that time of his life,” McCann fondly reflected. “I think that the players really liked him. They gravitated to him because he had such a good personality but he had that ability away from the ice [of being] just a great kid with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement. Then, on the ice, [he was] someone who was really intense, hard-working, and driven as an individual.”
And that hard work, drive, and intensity led to results.
In 29 games for St. Sebastian’s, Hughes scored 15 goals and 29 points. To suggest that he made the best of his ice time is certainly an understatement.
“Jack’ had a really successful year with us,” McCann said. “I mean, for such a young kid to have an impact that he did– he’s a skilled player. I think the thing is that a lot of the things that I notice about him, even at that stage, is he continued to develop with the [U.S.] National Development Team and now his first year with Northeastern.”
But during his constant development, Hughes’ natural skills were complemented that much better over time.
“A lot of [his development] was really revolving around his quickness and his instincts,” emphasized McCann. “He’s a very smart player. He has tremendous quickness not only with kind of the first couple of strides or his ability to cut going a different direction quickly but with his hands, too. He’s always got his head up, he’s got good vision, and he does things quickly. So, if you’re playing with Jack, you’ve got to always be ready. You don’t know when that puck is going to come in your direction or when he’s going to make a play with you. So, I think, you have to be attentive to what he does: understanding that his quickness of decisions and the ability to do things in a hurry is a little bit better than most players.”
Of course, there will always be mistakes along the way, as much as high-caliber players like Hughes are praised for their achievements. For any young player, how they respond to criticism is imperative to what type of individual they want to be both on and off the ice. In Sean McCann’s experience, Hughes was nothing short of a consummate pro in these situations.
“He was always somebody that took criticism well,” the 50-year-old said matter-of-factly. “And the way I coached him was more along the lines of just providing options for kids. I mean, I think that you have to let players explore, develop their game, and make mistakes. As they do that, they kind of understand what does work and what doesn’t work. So, presenting options to the players is the way I look at it. It’s like, ‘Hey, what you tried there didn’t quite work. Here are a couple of other options or a couple of things you might want to think about.’
“They have to develop and understand that as the game gets to that higher level, the game becomes faster. Therefore, something they did two years earlier may not work anymore. That’s because it has to be done in a different way or in a faster manner. So, [Hughes] was always good. As I said, he was a sponge for the game. He’s always looking to learn, he’s always looking to get better, and he was a very good kid to coach.”
And these words of praise, should not – and do not – come lightly from someone of McCann’s caliber.
A native of North York, ON, McCann just finished his 12th season at the Needham, MA-based institution. Along the way, McCann produced many successful players including Noah Hanifin, Drew Commesso, and Jack’s brother, Riley. That adds to a list of the school’s NHL alumni, which includes former King Brian Boyle and new Sharks GM Mike Grier.
Regardless of when he makes the NHL, but Jack Hughes is nonetheless a special talent. During his time of reflection, it was evident just how lucky the St. Sebastian’s bench boss felt to have been a part of the youngster’s journey.
“He’s a complete player,” McCann stressed. “What I mean by that is he plays all three zones the same way. I mean, some kids are very offensive-minded. When it comes to playing in their own zone, they kind of lack that same level of commitment or intensity. The way [Hughes] played the game in every zone, he was just as committed, just as strong, just as driven.
“The advice that I kind of presented to Jack really along the way is, again, presenting options to him and letting him develop as a player through making good plays and making mistakes. Even from one level to the next as he came from the [Boston] Jr. Eagles to us and the jump up for him was just the speed of it. So, a lot of things I appreciate from a lot of players is it’s going to take a little bit of time to get up to speed. Once you do your game, your skill set is going to take over.”
As far as McCann was concerned, he passed any and all challenges with flying colors.
“That was probably the biggest jump right off the bat for him. But he adjusted to that really quickly,” added the coach. “I think the biggest thing that, as a young player in our league and as they move up there, if you’re getting opportunities as an offensive-minded player like Jack is, if you’re getting opportunities but maybe you’re not scoring or it’s not translating to goals or assists, as long as your game’s giving opportunities, it means you’re doing something right. As soon as you don’t get any opportunities, then you have to start to evaluate your game. That’s what I teach a lot of the kids and Jack was no different.”
So, what is the LA Kings’ prospect’s biggest asset?
“For such a young kid, Jack’s hockey IQ is very high,” McCann noted. He was able to do a lot of good things out there. With his deceptive and kind of elusive type of play, he was able to kind of create quite a bit for us [in 2018-19].”
It may be a minute before we see him competing for a spot on the LA Kings’ roster. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy Jack Hughes’ journey along the way.
He may be entirely different than the aforementioned first-overall pick from 2019. Nonetheless, Jack Hughes is determined to make a big name for himself. That will only continue as his path to the top is clear. After all, if Sean McCann’s experience and teaching prowess are any indications, it’s going to be a matter of when, not if, Jack Hughes calls Los Angeles home.