Quinn Hughes has gotten off to a roaring start to his rookie campaign. Early on, his impact on the Canucks has shone brightest on the power play and in the team’s newfound ability to control the offensive zone. Toward the beginning of November, Hughes led all NHL defencemen in offensive zone possession and ranked eighth in end-to-end rushes.
Hughes’ performance hasn’t just been impressive for a rookie, either. He’s outplayed a number of established, high-end NHL defensemen. Here are four of the most blue liners Quinn has bested so far this season.
A two-time Stanley Cup Champion, Drew Doughty has been the backbone of the Los Angeles Kings’ blue line for quite some time now. Although Doughty isn’t exactly popular with fans of other NHL teams, his sustained level of excellence is hard to dispute.
Doughty would best be described as an all-around franchise defenceman. He kills penalties, and has run the L.A. Kings power play for the better part of the past decade. Although Hughes hasn’t been tasked much with killing penalties this season, that day may come, as Canucks head coach Travis Green already trusts the rookie defenceman with tough matchups at 5-on-5.
Doughty isn’t exactly having an off year, but Hughes has been far more effective at both ends of the ice at 5 on 5 for the Canucks than Doughty has been for the Kings. Hughes xGF/60 and SCF/60 are higher than Doughty’s, and his xGA/60 and SCA/60 is lower, too. That’s good, right? That seems good.
Chris Tanev, who was Hughes’ partner to begin the season, praised his partner’s defence, claiming Hughes is not given the credit he deserves when it comes to his defensive abilities.
Tanev may be right. Not only has Hughes been the Canucks’ best defenceman at 5-on-5, he has also been one of the best defencemen in the entire NHL. This Advanced Stats report I generated on Dobber’s Frozen Tools has Hughes as the seventh best overall defenceman in the NHL.
The names ahead of him are a laundry list of some of the NHL’s most notable defencemen that includes John Carlson, Dougie Hamilton, and Victor Hedman. All three of those defencemen could very well be up for the Norris Trophy this year, so that’s some pretty elite company for Hughes’ name to even be mentioned in.
Morgan Rielly is arguably the best defenceman on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ roster. Rielly put up 72 points in 82 games last season, and is one of Toronto’s most reliable defenders. He has been a mainstay on their first power play unit until just recently, when Tyson Barrie took over at the point position.
What may surprise you, however, is that Hughes has actually outperformed Rielly in just about every way possible. At 5v5, the Canucks have conceded both fewer shots and fewer goals when Hughes is on the ice than the Leafs have when Rielly is on the ice (/60).
Additionally, Hughes’ expected goals for (xGF/60) and expected goals against (xGA/60) sits at 2.53 and 1.8, respectively. Rielly’s xGF and xGA, on the other hand? 2.35 and 2.33.
Aside from keeping the puck out of the net, Hughes also has better numbers than Rielly when it comes to his ability to help his team generate offence on the power play. The Canucks first power play unit currently has the more goals than any unit in the NHL right now, and that is greatly due to the fact that Hughes is now quarterbacking the first unit.
As already mentioned, Rielly has been moved to the second unit in favour of Barrie in Toronto. Could you imagine the outrage in Vancouver if Hughes was taken off the first unit?
Many in Vancouver, myself included, wanted Erik Karlsson to sign with the Canucks when he was due to hit unrestricted free agency. Instead of hitting the open market, Karlsson elected to extend his contract with the San Jose Sharks on June 17th, 2019. The deal runs through the 2026-27 season and carries an annual cap hit of $11.5 million.
Hughes, on the other hand, has this season and next remaining on his entry-level contract. He will certainly be due for a big pay day when that expires, but much like Brock Boeser, he is ineligible to be offer sheeted.
When trying to find a comparable for the rover style of game that Hughes plays, Karlsson was always a name that came to mind. Many hoped that Hughes could grow into the elite level defenceman and two-time Norris Trophy winner that Karlsson is.
Similar to Karlsson, Hughes is responsible defensively, but is incredibly gifted when it comes to his offensive abilities. Hughes currently has more points than Karlsson, and has helped generate more offence for the Canucks than Karlsson has for the Sharks thus far. Hughes’ CF/60 is 58.67, while Karlsson’s is 53.82.
Karlsson has been more effective defensively than Hughes, however. In most categories, it would appear as though Karlsson has a slight edge over the rookie defenceman in his ability to help his team keep opponents at bay. Karlsson has marginally better numbers in SA/60 and CA/60.
But who would you rather have on your team, right now? When you take into account each player’s current contract, the answer is most definitely Hughes. Contracts aside, I’d argue that it’s still close — Hughes has been that good.
Although many predicted him to win or be the runner-up for the Calder at the beginning of last season, Rasmus Dahlin finished third in 2019 Calder voting. Dahlin currently sits at 16 points through 24 games and owns a CF/60 of 52.82 and CA/60 of 55.22.
The Canucks are generating much more offence and conceding less scoring chances when Hughes is on the ice, as opposed to what the Sabres are getting from Dahlin.
Dahlin was the first overall pick in Hughes’ draft class, and many teams, including the Canucks, regarded Hughes as the best defenceman in that draft not named Rasmus Dahlin.
Dahlin is in the midst of bit of a sophomore slump, but a defenceman of his calibre is almost certain to turn things around sooner than later. As of now though, Hughes is outplaying the leader of his draft class, and many, many other defencemen around the NHL.