“That young lad is a defenceman?” Yes, Mr. Gretzky, that is correct.
Quinn Hughes burst onto the scene like a car in cruise control last season. The effortlessly electrifying, smooth-skating defenceman wasn’t phased by anything in his first full NHL season and came just short of winning the Calder Trophy.
What was impressive for the young star is he finished fifth in defenceman scoring while clicking at a staggering 0.66 assists per game in his rookie campaign. However, since January 8th, just before the all-star break, Hughes led the league among defenders in scoring and was one point shy of being a point per game in the postseason.
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The Best of Hughes in 2021
Games: 56, Goals: 8, Assists: 37, Avg 23:00, Corsi 55%
The 21-year-old defender has room to improve in his own end, which is expected for someone that young. However, his offensive prowess is already at an elite level.
Heading into a short season, Hughes can elevate his points per game rate, which finished at .78 last season. Hughes reaching the .80 mark is certainly doable. Playing on PP1 takes up most of the power play, where Hughes can pad his stats. However, Hughes can also produce without any man advantage. Nearly splitting his even strength and power-play numbers in half (28 EVP, 25 PPP).
We know Hughes is an offensive juggernaut who makes challenging plays look effortless and can get out of trouble with a quick turn. He creates more chances for the offence than any other defenceman on the Canucks.
It seems that his teammates puff out their chests a little more when they know Hughes is on the ice with them.
An improved defensive game will likely be next for Hughes, whose rise to stardom was expedited with his speed and IQ. His stick’s positioning and how he gets in between the puck and opponent is astonishing, along with his edge work. It’s safe to assume that his defensive game will only improve this upcoming season, but hey, if Hughes continues to keep the puck at the offensive end, as the saying goes, the best defence is the best offence.
In a perfect world, the number one defenceman on the team will see his ice time rise. With a compact schedule in a very competitive North Division where every game will matter, having Hughes on the ice more means having a better chance to win.
The worst-case scenario for Hughes in 2021
Games: 46, Goals: 4, Assists: 25, Avg: 18:00, Corsi: 46%
Hughes is paramount for the Canucks to have a successful campaign. Missing any action will be a significant blow to him and the team, which can surely say goodbye to a postseason spot. Having his goals per game and assists per game rates drop down would mean a sophomore slump and a step in the wrong direction. Still, the fact that the expectations are sky high is expected from an elite player, and anything less from matching or getting close to his PPG from his rookie year would be a disappointing campaign.
With the lack of an offensive punch, people could scrutinize his defensive game, which will be under a microscope in an all-Canadian division. A regression in his defensive play would be added to the numbers as a worst-case scenario for Hughes this season.
What else does a successful season look like?
Entering his second full season, becoming more confident and comfortable could make Hughes dangerous. Being in the conversation for the Norris Trophy will be an enormous achievement for the sophomore.
The second-longest tenured Canuck and youngest on defence, another angle Hughes can take a leap in is on the leadership side. The anchor for the foreseeable future and face of the franchise on the backend, Hughes, along with the help of Alex Edler, can become a leader on a defence corps that lost Chris Tanev this offseason.
What else does an unsuccessful season look like?
Getting tired as the season progresses: Heading into the dog days of last season playing taxing minutes, Hughes’ play tailed off a little. During the pause, he regrouped and re-energized before heading to the bubble, where he played extremely well. Coming over from college, the number of games being played was something Hughes needed to experience. Now in his second season, if he sees his game dip again towards the end of the season, that could cause some concern.
The best puck-moving Canucks defenceman since Christian Ehrhoff, Hughes is on the verge of becoming one of the best this franchise has seen. Already a horse on defence, he is the engine that runs the ship on the back end.
My prediction? Hughes will have an outstanding season and leave no doubt that he is the best defenceman in Canada by the time the season ends.