A year after the 2017 NHL Entry Draft where only two NCAA hockey players were drafted in the first round, two were taken in the top-10 in the 2018 Entry Draft.
Brady Tkachuk, of Boston University, was taken fourth overall by the Ottawa Senators. Three picks later, close friend Quinn Hughes, of Michigan, walked to the stage to adorn a Vancouver Canucks jersey.
It was a proud moment for NCAA fans seeing not only representation of the league, but specifically such great representation. Tkachuk and Hughes were not drafted highly for the sake of it being a weak draft, but because they are stars in what was a loaded draft.
While neither Tkachuck nor Hughes are ready for the NHL immediately, but their impacts could be seen as early as next season if their clubs play their cards right and the prospects put on a clinic at training camp. Given their array of skills, these players will shine for years to come at the NHL level.
Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston University
The younger brother of Calgary Flame Matthew and son of USA Hockey Hall of Famer Keith, deserves to have his own name said without reference to his established family members; Brady is well on his way to stardom all his own.
The 6'3", 192lbs forward plays exactly how you'd expect: heavy. Tkachuk is the embodiment of the 2012 LA Kings' playing style. He is a large body that plays in the corners and is more than willing to take his chances in front of the net and has speed on his side.
And since he was taken 4th overall, it's not surprising to hear he's not just a net-front-presence brute. He has the IQ of any elite sniper or playmaker, with the humble ability to play in the dirty areas. His puck-tracking abilities and hand-eye make him deadly right in front of the net; he can track rebound and sling them into the back of the net with ease from close range.
His wrist shot needs improvement, however. If Tkachuk returns to Boston U for another year and adds some power to his wrist shot so he can get it off fast and accurately from the low-slot, he's going to take over the Ottawa Senators' offense and become a strong goal-scorer.
It would come as no surprise if Ottawa pushed Tkachuk to forego another year at BU to get him to spice-up a dismal Sens roster. Because of his wits and size, Tkachuk could make this jump, though his rookie season might not be as successful as they hope if he doesn't have time to refine his shot.
Regardless, given the previously mentioned assets, Brady Tkachuk will make for an easy household name as his revamping of the 'pest' role develops at the NHL level.
Quinn Hughes, D, Michigan
Hughes, much like Tkachuk, comes from a family name that often garners name-dropping of his siblings (no wonder the two are best friends). As the oldest of three NHL-bound brothers, he's the first to start what could be a long-lasting Hughes legacy. Quinn has the abilities to make that happen on his end of the bargain.
Say cheeeeese! pic.twitter.com/upXALb91Uy— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) June 23, 2018
His 5'10 stature is no liability for him–the defenseman with some of the best wheels in the draft. Noah Hanifin, a former Boston College Eagle drafted 5th overall in 2015, had admirable skating ability–Hughes' is better.
He is the closest thing you can get to a two-way defender at his age with so much offensive upside. Usually, 18 year-old defenders are careless with the puck and think only offense, but Hughes is not.
He's still not perfect though.
He's prone to turnovers in his own zone, mainly because he can be overpowered along the boards behind his own net. Aside from that, he lacks any other defensive holes.
Hughes' defensive abilities (as well as his offensive ones) are born from his skating and his creativity. Scouts and media have emphasized Hughes' "explosive" skating (a term notably popularized after the drafting of Connor McDavid), and they should. He is easily the fastest skating defenseman in his class because of his acceleration and maneuverability.
Hughes is also crafty, more like a forward than a defenseman typically is. His positioning on the power play is unpredictable; sometimes he's in the circles, sometimes he tries for the slot, sometimes he stays back and is the lone man at the point, ready to dart back on the backcheck.
Quinn Hughes needs just one more year of development at Michigan to improve his skating in his own zone and his ability to avoid hits. Once he tackles those, he'll be ready to go.
Overall, Ottawa and Vancouver are winners in this draft thanks to the NCAA's products and will be for as long as these players suit up for their teams. If both players don't make an appearance on an NHL roster, chance are they will find themselves in Vancouver for the 2019 World Junior Championships–a stage college players have known to excel on.
Training camp begins in September for the entire NHL, and will be the deciding moment for these young stars.