3 legendary NHL captains that match Quinn Hughes’ leadership profile

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
10 months ago
On Monday of this week, the Vancouver Canucks introduced Quinn Hughes as the 15th captain in franchise history.
While Hughes was the leading candidate at this point, and a more than worthy choice, the news still came as a bit of a surprise, in part due to the fact that Hughes doesn’t really fit the profile of a stereotypical hockey captain.
He’s still just 23 years old, and will be until the first week of the season.
He’s among the smallest, least physical players on the team.
He’s often softspoken, always plainspoken, and consistently operates at an even emotional keel.
But the “stereotypical hockey captain” is just that, a stereotype, and one that has become increasingly irrelevant to the sport. Leadership can come in many forms, and it has already come in the form of several famous, even legendary, NHL captains that match Hughes’ expected leadership profile for one reason or another.
These are those captains.

Scott Niedermayer

Captain of: New Jersey Devils 2003/04, Anaheim Ducks 2005/06-2006-07, 2008/09-2009/10, Canadian Olympic Team 2010
Let’s get the obvious, surface-level similarities out of the way early. Both Hughes and Niedermayer are blueliners who happen to be among the best skaters to ever play the game. Both put up a lot of assists and not that many goals despite an abundance of offensive skill. Both have brothers that are forwards and aren’t quite as good.
There are some clear dissimilarities, too. Hughes is already the superior producer, whereas if he ever approaches the defensive heights of Niedermayer, Canucks fans will rejoice. Niedermayer is a little bit bigger, was more physically-involved, and had far more of a temper than Hughes ever will. Niedermayer also didn’t become a captain until the age of 30, trailing Hughes by seven years.
Where the real match in leadership profile can be found, however, is in personality. Words like quiet, understated, and even stoic were used to describe Niedermayer throughout his career. Former teammate Cam Fowler outlined “For anyone who knows him, he doesn’t spill his wisdom onto you. He’s not looking to ruffle any feathers. He’s very soft spoken.”
That even-keel approach proved important on several occasions, including en route to the 2007 Stanley Cup. Shortly after Daniel Alfredsson had shot the puck at Niedermayer post-whistle, Ryan Getzlaf remembers Niedermayer instructing his teammates to turn the other cheek.
“All he did was come in and kind of calm everybody. Just said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Just forget about it kind of thing. Obviously, our team that year was kind of known for getting retribution and sticking up for each other. Lot of fights and all that kind of stuff. Scotty was just trying to get everyone to understand at that moment what was important and that definitely wasn’t.”
Sounds like a thought Hughes might express on any given night.
Hughes will be expected to lead despite being surrounded by some larger-than-life personalities, just like Niedermayer was. Niedermayer carved out a leadership for his role despite sharing the ice with the likes of Scott Stevens and Chris Pronger. If he could do that, then Hughes can certainly lead this current iteration of the Canucks.

Steve Yzerman

Captain of: Detroit Red Wings 1986/87-2005/06
Both Hughes and Yzerman are undersized compared to their peers, both became captains in their early-20s, and, as was the case with Niedermayer, there are some definite personality similarities here.
Yzerman always seemed to feel a little uncomfortable in the limelight and valued his privacy, but still represented his team proudly and capably whenever called to. Both he and Hughes are definitely on the soft- and plainspoken side of things, and yet in each that quality belies an ever-present passionate intensity that mostly comes out on the ice. Both are incredibly direct when they need to be, and otherwise choose their words very carefully.
But the real similarities in leadership profile between Hughes and Yzerman might come in their parallel career paths.
As Hughes has already done, Yzerman came into the league and very quickly proved himself immensely offensively-talented. His 155 points in 1988/89 at age 23 — the same age Hughes is now — is still the most put up in a single season by anyone not named Gretzky or Lemieux. Had he continued solely in this direction, Yzerman might have wound up pretty high in the all-time scoring rankings.
Instead, Yzerman transformed his game, giving up offensive opportunity and raw production to become one of the game’s best two-way players. In short, he sacrificed personal points and glory to help his team win and, eventually, it worked. Yzerman is now lauded far more for that transition that he is for all the astronomical achievements that came before it, because that transition is generally what is credited with him going on to be a three-time Stanley Cup champion. It is this quality, more than anything, that usually sees Yzerman listed as one of, if not the, greatest captains of all-time.
We won’t jump the gun too much on Hughes, who has yet to skate his first game as captain. But already, we can see the opening stages of a similar transition taking place. Hughes could have come into the NHL as a top-tier offensive blueliner and stayed that his entire career. He would have found continual employment and lucrative salaries all the way through. Instead, already, he’s demonstrated dedication to rounding out his game and becoming a more defensively-reliable defender. Already, he’s become one of the Canucks’ best in their own end, and who knows where subsequent years will take him with his work ethic and drive. Thus far, Hughes hasn’t really had to sacrifice points to achieve greater things defensively, but if that time ever comes, we’re fairly confident that, like Yzerman, he’ll be willing to do so in order to help his team win.

Henri Richard

Captain of: Montreal Canadiens, 1971/72-1974/75
Never let it be said that we don’t cover the full breadth of hockey history at this here publication!
The surface-level similarities are obvious. Richard played at 5’7” and 160 pounds, which is about the size Hughes was on draft day. Both players are overshadowed by brothers who put up greater offensive production and have far louder personalities.
More importantly, both lead/led by example and by delegation, quietly and consistently performing in ways that elevated their teammates to ever-greater heights.
It’s not just about being a smooth-skating playmaker, although it’s also about being a playmaker. Both Hughes and the Pocket Rocket are/were far more likely to make a teammate look good on the ice than themselves, whether they’re dishing them the puck or carrying it up the ice for them.
Don’t take our word for it, ask no less than Jean Beliveau what he thought of Richard: “”Henri was definitely a leader, even before he became captain. His leadership came from his determination on the ice and the fact that he was a team player.”
‘Determination’ is also a word that has been thrown around a lot in the leadup to Hughes’ captaincy.
Often lauded as a gentleman, a kind soul, and a nice guy, Richard was also as intensely competitive and driven to win on the ice as Maurice was, he just showed it in other, subtler ways.
One of those ways? Winning 11 Stanley Cups as a player, the most of anyone ever.
In drawing comparisons, we’re not suggesting that Hughes is destined for a similar trophy case.
But, hey, we certainly wouldn’t complain.
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