HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears signed a pair of players to AHL contracts on Thursday, adding Washington Capitals draft selections Bear Hughes and Benton Maass. Both skaters joined the Bears late last season on amateur tryout agreements, with Maass skating on the blue line in Hershey’s season finale. Both players figure to be big additions to the team’s group, with spots in the lineup up for grabs when the Bears get back to training camp for the new season. The signings come on the heels of forward Mason Morelli’s 2022-23 contract earlier this week.
Hughes turns 21 on May 30 and skated in 64 games for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL this past season. He was named the team’s captain early in the calendar year and tallied 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) as well as a helper in four playoff games. Hughes was selected in the fifth round, 148th overall of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and his signing gives him a chance to earn more from the Capitals. His signing is another nice addition for Hershey’s blue line that is looking to reload on offensive talent and acquire strong depth.
Hughes plays a very aggressive, in-your-face style of hockey that sees him score often from the dirty areas in front of the net. Elite Prospects once called him “well…a bear on the puck”, citing his ability to control the puck and find the twine, and this impressed the Capitals enough to pick him in the draft. Hughes has been open about what he needs to do to improve his play following his first exposure to Washington Capitals rookie camp last fall, wanting to get bigger and stronger on the puck after experiencing the NHL. With the WHL in flux, Hughes spent the 2020-21 season in the USHL with the Fargo Force, and his 2021-22 campaign was his best yet in terms of production, culminating in Hughes being named captain and the leader of the Chiefs this season. “I was going to stay here no matter what,” he said in an interview back in April. “Living at home, I love it. I don’t want to go anywhere else if I don’t have to. Next year I will if I want to keep playing hockey, but I just wanted to enjoy living at home this year no matter what the circumstances were.” Family has always been a priority for Hughes, coming from a large family, and the article at The Spokesman-Review is worth checking out for more on his background and upbringing. He’ll be looking to press his way onto the Bears’ roster this season, which will once again be a tough battle.
Maass joined the Bears and was one of a few young players to dress for game action this season, skating in Hershey’s last game and acquitting himself nicely against the Syracuse Crunch. Playing against one of the North Division’s tougher opponents, Maass looked to adapt as the game went on with such stalwart players like Cody Franson and Lucas Johansen unable to play in the game. As one of the young players with the most exposure to Hershey, he should be a top candidate to get ice time next season. Maass played four seasons for the University of New Hampshire, and this season skated for Minnesota State University after a transfer and helped get the Mavericks to the NCAA Tournament title game.
Maass is a fearless defender who isn’t afraid to jump in on offense and lay his body on the line to block shots. It’s no surprise that his NCAA team went as far as they did this season with him on the blue line, where he contributed three goals and 11 assists in 42 games played this season. Maass was originally drafted by the Capitals in the sixth round, 182nd overall, in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and the 23-year-old looks to hit his stride at the professional ranks amongst a group of skilled Hershey defensemen next season.
Although both players are draft selections of the Washington Capitals, their contracts will keep them in Hershey next season unless the NHL club decides to sign them to a contract. Even this early in the summer, it looks to be a fierce battle for playing time on the Bears as the Chocolate and White look to be a top team in the AHL this season. Signing quality skaters is of utmost importance, and it would not be surprising to see more players added to the team throughout the summer.
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