Canucks prospects tracker: Hughes risks madness to achieve genius

It’s the latest edition of the weekly tracker, where we tally up the efforts of the Vancouver Canucks’ highest-profile prospects:

Quinn Hughes

School’s back in session, and Hughes is back to schooling his NCAA opposition.

After a world junior tournament that was big on highlights — but short on points — for the Canucks’ 2018 first-rounder, Hughes has settled back into the comforts of college hockey at the University of Michigan.

But is the fleet-footed defenceman getting a little too cozy on campus?

Hughes plays the game on the edge. There’s a certain risk-to-reward factor with him that can make your hair stand on end, or fall out altogether.

This past week, we saw the genius — and we saw the madness.

The Wolverines split a two-game set against #4-ranked Ohio State, with Michigan winning 2-1 on Friday night and losing 4-2 on Saturday.

Hughes had two assists in the two games, a total of five shots and was even on the plus-minus meter.

Both apples were a result of his superior skating and stickhandling. On Friday night, Hughes entered the zone at top speed, deked around a defenceman to the outside before finding an open man in front.

Sweet stuff, especially with fellow Canucks prospect Will Lockwood finishing the play.

That’s the genius. Then there’s the madness.

On one play, he circles behind his net, sees a forechecker coming in hot and instead of reversing the puck around the boards to safety, he does a dangerous spin-o-rama to the inside and whips a long pass to a teammate who’s covered at the opposition’s blue-line.

High risk, not so much reward.

On another, Hughes skates across Ohio State’s blue-line at even strength, switching positions with his defensive partner, but then sends a spinning no-look pass straight onto the tape of the opposition for a partial breakaway.

It’s madness, I tell you.

Hughes has always played with reckless abandon. It’s what’s made him great up to this point in his career.

But as his NHL days creep ever closer, it may serve him best to start simplifying things. In the big leagues, Hughes may be the one who gets burned more often than not if he can’t keep the high-risk plays to a minimum.

It’s also possible that he’s getting bored with the level of play in the NCAA, and is just showing off his latest toys, err, moves.

Hughes has three goals and 19 assists in 19 games played this season for the Wolverines, who are 8-9-6.

He’s also a minus-5.

Will Lockwood

Two games this week for Lockwood, another two goals for the Michigan forward.

The Canucks’ 3rd-rounder in 2016 found the net in each of the Wolverines’ games, and was the beneficiary of two great rushes by the aforementioned Hughes.

In Friday’s 2-1 win over Ohio State, Lockwood lets Hughes do all the work, sneaking to the top of the crease to cash in on a nice passing play.

And in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Ohio State, Hughes darts into the opponents’ zone then deftly dishes it to Lockwood, who fires a one-timer from the right circle past the goaltender short-side for a power-play goal.

Lockwood has eight goals and 10 assists in 23 games this season. He’s also a plus-3.

Tyler Madden

Fresh from an impressive showing at the world juniors, Madden has continued his hot play for Northeastern University.

In his return to the NCAA squad, Madden had two assists in Friday’s 3-2 win at Maine. He also had two shots, a plus-2 rating and went five-for-14 in the faceoff circle.

Then on Saturday, Madden added another assist and had six shots on net in a 4-0 win over the same team. He also went eight-for-20 in faceoffs.

Madden, a player who prides himself on his 200-foot game, can also dazzle at times. He had several effective dangles in Friday’s game that led to goals. Then in Saturday’s game, he went for a no-look, between-the-legs pass that didn’t pan out — among other nice plays.

He’s getting rave reviews for the level of skill he’s putting on display in his rookie season in the NCAA.

Madden, the Canucks’ 3rd-rounder in 2018, has 18 points in 16 games this season. Northeastern is 14-4-1 and is the #11-ranked college team in the U.S.

Toni Utunen

Utunen was so overjoyed with Team Finland’s world junior gold medal win that he barely remembers any of it.

When the elation wore off, he found himself worn out and needing rest before lacing up the skates for Tappara in the Finnish SM-Liiga.

Utunen got into game action on Friday, a 4-2 win over fellow Canucks prospect Petrus Palmu and TPS Turku. The 18-year-old fifth-rounder from 2018 was his steady self, playing over 13 minutes as the seventh defenceman with three shots and a minus-1 rating.

Utunen logged just over ten minutes the next night, a 3-1 win over Sport. He is playing on a deep Tappara team and hasn’t looked out of place, unlike last season when he was loaned out to LeKi of the Finnish second division.

Utunen has one assist in 23 games played this season and is a plus-1 overall.

Jonathan Dahlen

What started out as a relatively unproductive week for Dahlen changed with an old-fashioned greasy goal.

Dahlen didn’t do much in the Utica Comets’ 6-3 loss to the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday. he had no points and finished the game a minus-1.

In Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Dahlen managed an assist and one shot on net.

But it was in Saturday’s game that Dahlen stood out, scoring an early power play goal and getting three shots on net. The goal came on a five-on-three, with Dahlen creeping to the side of the net and jamming home a loose puck in a 3-2 win against the Syracuse Crunch.

Dahlen was named the game’s third star. He now has nine goals and 11 assists in 38 games played for the Comets this season. He’s also a minus-11.

The Comets, meanwhile, are in second place in the AHL’s North Division with a 21-17-3-1 record, though they’ve played a few more games than their division rivals.

Lukas Jasek

It’s easy to forget about Jasek, who doesn’t get the attention that prospects like Dahlen and Madden command. But Jasek might be the most NHL-ready of the current crop of forward prospects not playing for the Canucks.

The Czech winger continued to build on a solid season with the Comets this past week with a two-assist effort against the Marlies on Wednesday.

On the first assist, Jasek makes a good play to get the puck into the zone, then swings it to the centre of the ice for a Tanner Kero deposit into an empty cage.

The second assist was similar, with Jasek whipping the puck across the crease to defenceman Jesse Graham, whose shot is redirected into the net by Kero the hero.

In Friday’s overtime loss to the Tigers, Jasek didn’t register a point but wasn’t a defensive liability either.

What happened next turned some heads. Jasek was scratched from the lineup for Utica’s win on Saturday against the Crunch — and he was scratched for Graham, a defenceman who was utilized as a forward on the night. It left some pundits perplexed.

But then it turned out that Comets coach Trent Cull thought the team was tired after five games in seven days and wanted Graham in as an option to quarterback the power play.

In Utica’s rookie scoring race, Jasek has actually vaulted himself to within two points of Dahlen’s 20, and has done so with five fewer games played. The sixth-rounder in 2015 has seven goals and 11 assists in 22 games played this season. He’s also a plus-6, the best plus-minus of any Comets forward.

Jett Woo

Not a great week for Woo, whose Moose Jaw Warriors lost all three games they played.

The hard-hitting defenceman was a minus-2 in a 3-2 loss on Wednesday to the Calgary Hitmen. He had two shots on goal in the game.

In a 7-2 loss against the Seattle Thunderbirds on Friday, Woo had one power-play assist but finished the game minus-2 with two shots on net.

Then on Saturday, he had four shots on net in a 3-2 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Woo, who was snubbed out of a spot on Team Canada by Warriors coach Tim Hunter, will play in B.C. this coming week, if you wanted to get a closer look at him.

He’ll be in Kelowna on Wednesday to play the Rockets, then in Langley on Saturday to face the Giants.

Michael DiPietro

It’s was a tough week for DiPietro, who lost both of his starts for the stacked Ottawa 67’s.

DiPietro had four goals scored against him in Saturday’s 5-3 loss at the London Knights. He saved 24 of 28 shots against the OHL’s Western Conference leaders in his second start for the 67’s, the Eastern Conference leaders.

Sunday wasn’t much better, as DiPietro was ventilated for five goals on 18 shots against the Guelph Storm and was yanked from the game midway through the second period. The final score was 8-4 for the Storm.

DiPietro, the Canucks’ 3rd-round selection in the 2017 draft, may just need some time to put the junior tournament behind him and get acclimated to his new team, which is expected to make a run for a Memorial Cup.

mraptis@postmedia.com

twitter.com/mike_raptis

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