The Vancouver Canucks made a splash when they bolstered their top-four defence group by acquiring Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights earlier this offseason.
Able to use Vegas’ tight cap situation to their advantage, the Canucks gave up a 2022 third-round pick in return for a legit top 2-3 defenceman in Schmidt.
But the question needs to be examined in depth: who is the best partner for Schmidt?
From a purely stylistic standpoint, you can likely guess correctly that Quinn Hughes is the simple answer.
Hughes played matchup minutes alongside Chris Tanev for the majority of last season, and succeeded in every situation he was put in. The only thing Hughes really hasn’t done for the Canucks is kill penalties, something Schmidt was tasked with during his Vegas tenure.
If the Canucks were to put Hughes next to Schmidt, they would instantly put together one of the most dangerous defence pairings in the league. Both players are exceptional at driving play up the ice and can make teams pay if they’re given enough time and space to create an offensive threat.
That being said, Hughes and Schmidt are hands down the Canucks’ two most qualified defencemen to carry a pairing on their own, and that’s part of the reason why they should actually be split up.
It’s already been established that both are elite puck movers and can break the puck out of the defensive end with ease. For a team such as the Canucks — who struggled to get the puck out of their own end for extended periods of time in the playoffs — having at least one of these players on the ice for as much time as possible is most ideal.
Think about it like this: would you rather have 40+ total minutes of having at least one extremely talented defenceman on the ice, or would you rather play the wheels off both simultaneously and get them for about 23+ minutes a night instead?
Not only that, but are you really comfortable with having 10 of those 23 minutes potentially being played in the Canucks’ end? Because that pairing will still be needed to play some key matchup minutes against the opposition’s best. Myers and Edler can’t do it alone, but could undoubtedly do it if they’re split up and paired with one of these elite defencemen instead.
The answer seems a little more clear when put like that, but it still doesn’t fully answer the question of who is best suited for Schmidt. Is it Tyler Myers or is it Alex Edler?
For most of last season, Schmidt played the right side on a defence pairing alongside Brayden McNabb. The two played in a top-four matchup role and were able to drive play well while holding their own at 5 on 5.
It’s interesting to note that the pairing’s underlying profile is similar to that of the Edler-Myers pairing the Canucks rolled out last season:
Similar to Edler, McNabb is a bit more of a stay at home defenceman than Schmidt, and the duo were still able to thrive playing tough minutes with one another.
Edler’s footspeed isn’t anything to write home about, but make no mistake: he is still capable of playing tough minutes and can hold his own at 5 on 5. He would undoubtedly benefit from playing with a player like Schmidt, and one may even argue he’d benefit from it more than Myers would.
The Myers-Hughes pairing was one of the Canucks’ best pairings at driving play last season. For both Hughes and Myers, neither player had better underlying numbers when away from each other, either — they both played their best hockey when paired up together.
A Myers-Schmidt pairing just wouldn’t work because the Canucks would be asking one of Edler and Hughes to get used to playing the right side in a hurry, whereas Schmidt did just that almost exclusively for all of last season.
If the Canucks configure the pairings with Hughes-Myers and Edler-Schmidt, they are setting themselves up to have a balanced lineup that will change the way they move the puck up ice for the majority of the game.
If they’re trailing by a goal late and need to make a strong offensive push, having the potential super pairing of Hughes and Schmidt at their disposal will undoubtedly be an extremely useful secret weapon for the Canucks. But for the entirety of a full 60-minute game, pairing the two together just isn’t sustainable.