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The Canucks’ two best players have each improved upon their greatest weakness this offseason

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
There’s leading, and then there’s leading by example.
For an example of the latter, consider this scenario.
Let’s say that you’re an NHL player. No, not just an NHL player, but an NHL superstar.
And let’s say that you’re coming off the greatest season of your young career to date.
During the ensuing offseason, you could definitely rest on your laurels a bit. Relax, vacation, spend your millions, and stick to the same old summer routine that got you to where you currently are.
Or, alternatively, you could not rest. You could demonstrate that you’re not satisfied with even the rarified stratosphere of hockey talent to which you’ve already ascended, and spend your summer like a bubble player, pouring the hours into shoring up the weaknesses in your game.
Now that’s leading by example. That’s sending a message that everyone on the team needs to keep working, because if you, the near-flawless superstar, still feels the need to improve upon your skills, then what could any other player’s excuse be not to do so?
And when it comes to the Vancouver Canucks, they’ve got not one, but two players leading in example in exactly this way. That’s because — based on limited preseason action, anyway —  it sure looks as though both Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson have spent their summers each improving upon their own greatest weakness.
Now, it’s up to the rest of the team to follow their league.
Let’s start with the most obvious and dynamic on the improvements, which is Quinn Hughes’ sudden and intentional evolution into a goal-scorer.
Last year, Hughes set new career highs in assists with 69 and points with 76, but all he seemed to want to talk about in his exit interviews were his paltry seven goals. Hughes went into his offseason training with a stated goal of becoming a better, and more dangerous, shooter.
“What I think I worked on is being able to get my shot off from different movements so that I don’t have stop my skating and be in a comfortable position to get my shot off. I think there are different areas I can get a shot off depending where the D is. That’s the big thing I’m working on and we’ll see how it goes this year,” Hughes told The Hockey News.
So far, so good.
Through two exhibition matches, Hughes has taken 11 shots and scored on three of them. That’s a shooting percentage of 27.3%, which is well over and above even Kuzmenko territory. Last year, it took Hughes 154 shots to score seven goals, a percentage of 4.5%.
Hughes’ three goals don’t just lead the Canucks this preseason, they currently lead all NHL players, including plenty who have played more than Hughes’ two games.
Now, obviously, we’re not expecting either of these stats to hold into the regular season. Hughes probably isn’t going to score on a quarter of his shots, nor is he going to be in the running for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
But the eye test also clearly demonstrates that Hughes has returned to the ice as a more focused, dynamic, and dedicated shooter, and combined with the early stat returns, that adds up to him being a more well-rounded threat in the offensive end.
Which, really, is quite something for a player who was already considered one of the league’s most multifaceted talents.
Speaking of which, now is a fine time to switch gears and talk about Elias Pettersson.
If one followed the chatter around Pettersson and certain offseason awards he was in the running for — namely, the Selke Trophy — one probably heard the same critique being dragged out time and time again.
It went something like this:
“How can Pettersson be the best defensive forward in the NHL if he can’t win a faceoff?”
Now, tales of Pettersson’s draw-taking ineptitude have always been greatly exaggerated, but it was an obvious area of weakness in his game. Pettersson’s on-the-dot winning percentage had risen from 41.0% in his rookie campaign to 44.3% last year; an improvement, to be sure, but still a far cry from that of Patrice Bergeron and other typical Selke contenders.
But note that we said this was an obvious area of weakness in Pettersson’s game, not is. That’s because, like Hughes, it sure seems like Pettersson has spent the offseason shoring up this one particular deficit, at least if limited preseason action can be taken as evidence.
Pettersson, too, has played in two exhibition matches, and his faceoff results in those two games are honestly staggering.
In his first action of the year, against the Edmonton Oilers, Pettersson won 80% of his faceoffs.
In his second action of the year, also against the Edmonton Oilers, he slipped…all the way down to winning just 60% of his faceoffs.
That, as they say, will do.
And, sure, it’s just the preseason, but the list of centers that Pettersson was stealing those wins away from includes Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Brandon Sutter, the Canucks’ own former faceoff ace. In other words, the faceoff competition was more than on par with what Pettersson can expect to face in the regular season, and he still came away looking like a young Manny Malhotra.
There’s just no way to spin these two skill upgrades as anything other than enormous positives for the Vancouver Canucks. Hughes and Pettersson were always going to play major roles in the team’s success this season. They were already the two best players. Now, they’re even better players, and they’ve improved in hyper-specific ways that will ensure their overall games are significantly more complete in 2023/24 than they were the year prior.
And, as we said at the outset, that’s an example that anyone could and should follow. In elevating their own games, Hughes and Pettersson are giving their fellow Canucks all the impetus they could possibly need to keep working through it.
When the best are still grinding it out to get better all summer, what’s your excuse?

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