Chris Tanev called Quinn Hughes the most skilled defence partner he’s ever played with, and aside from Thursday night’s game against Carolina, Tyler Myers has also looked incredible on a defence pairing with the rookie defenceman.
Hughes has had an almost immeasurable impact on the Canucks, similar to the one Elias Pettersson had last season when he took home the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
Hughes is right up there with Cale Makar in this year’s Calder conversation, but hockey is a team game — personal accolades make up only a small fraction of a team’s overall performance. Even if Hughes doesn’t take home the Calder this year, he’s certainly done his part at tightening up the Canucks’ blue line.
Hughes and Tanev, along with Myers and Alex Edler, got off to a great start of the season as the Canucks’ top four defence group. In November however, the Canucks’ decided to shake up their top four. Hughes was paired up with Myers, and Tanev was skating alongside Edler.
It’s been well documented how much better Hughes has made the Canucks’ power play, which currently ranks one goal below the Edmonton Oilers for the league lead in power play goals. The thing that you may not realize however, is that Hughes has made every defence partner he’s played with, better.
The idea that Hughes doesn’t play good defence is a lazy one, and is an idea that Tanev took the opportunity to debunk as soon as it was proposed to him. “He plays very good defence, he’s very good obviously up the ice with the puck, and really good on the power play. He’s a full 200-foot player and he’s only going to get better as time goes on.”
Even Hughes himself has heard the criticisms of his defensive game. “My defensive game is undervalued,” the 20-year-old Hughes told The Province. “It’s something I’ve tried to really work on because I know people pick at it. At times, it’s just as good as my offensive game and I really trust it. At Michigan, I was used as a shutdown guy in key situations and it was good for my overall game.”
Head coach Travis Green has also trusted Hughes’ defensive games, and hasn’t shied away from matching his dynamic rookie defenceman against the opponents’ top lines on any given night.
The defence pairing of Myers and Edler have a higher CF/60 at 68.05 than Hughes and Tanev do at 55.49. That being said, the pairing of Hughes and Tanev were much better at keeping opposing scoring chances to a minimum when they were together.
The Hughes and Tanev pairing has a CA/60 of 47.9 and a SA/60 of 24.49 while the Myers and Edler pairing sits at 58.44 and 34.77, respectively. Since Myers has joined Hughes, the pairings overall CF/60 has remained high at 65.04, while their CA/60 has become the lowest of almost any pairing the Canucks have iced this season at 46.56.
Before Edler went down with his injury, Tanev and Edler weren’t having much success as a pairing, conceding more scoring chances and generating very little offence. While the pair has played just over 50 minutes together total this season, the small sample size doesn’t look good. The only major stat the Tanev Edler pairing beats the Hughes and Myers pairing is in expected goals for per 60 minutes of play. Tanev and Edler’s sits at 3.17, while Hughes and Myers’ is 2.85.
In the defensive end, however, playing with Hughes has dramatically improved Myers’ ability to keep the puck out of his own end, and Myers’ overall defensive play.
Hughes seems to elevate the play of every pairing he’s been put on, and that is simply the mark of an elite defenceman. While Hughes has been silencing his critics every night, he has earned the trust of his coaches, and the respect of his teammates.
Playing at the level he has, giving the Canucks’ power play new life, and elevating the play of everybody he’s been put out there with will do that. Especially doing all that as a rookie.