Less proving to be so much more for Quinn Hughes and the Canucks

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
21 days ago

Ice ice, baby

There are plenty of Vancouver Canucks fans that would love to watch Quinn Hughes play every minute of every game. He’s that good and that much fun to observe as he wheels around the ice on every shift. And when he took over as head coach last season, Rick Tocchet looked like he might just try to find out what the physical limits were for the gifted blueliner. A year ago at this time, Tocchet was playing the wheels off Hughes who averaged 27:20 of ice time over the final 25 ultimately meaningless games down the stretch for a team headed nowhere. Included in those games were a pair that eclipsed the 30 minute mark including a season high 30:48 in St. Louis on February 23, 2023. Hughes thrived under the heavy workload, but it was clear that for a team that had designs on improving, leaning on the star defenceman that much was far from ideal. 
As the Canucks bolstered their blueline with the additions of Filip Hronek, Carson Soucy, Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov, the club has been able to back off the heavy minutes for Hughes. Oh, he still plays a lot – as he should. But at a manageable 24:44 per game this season, Quinn Hughes isn’t even among the top 10 workhorses in the National Hockey League. He currently sits 11th on the list, slotted in between veterans Victor Hedman (24:48) and Kris Letang (24:43). And yet, despite being 11th in average ice time, Hughes leads all NHL defencemen in scoring with 86 points through 76 games. Because of that late season spike a year ago, Hughes is down nearly a full minute per game this season and playing the best hockey of his career.

Strength in numbers

It’s fascinating to look at the way Quinn Hughes has racked up his points this season. In his first 22 games, he had 15 power play points and back then it truly felt like the sky was the limit with a Canucks power play that was firing at 30% up to that juncture of the schedule. In the 54 games since, Hughes has ‘only’ 19 power play points and of those just 11 have come in the 27 games since All Star weekend. So while he’s the highest scoring blueliner in the league, he really hasn’t propped his overall total up on the man advantage. So far, Hughes has 52 points at even-strength and 34 on the power play – the same total of power play points he had over 82 games last season. Interestingly his lead in the overall defenceman scoring derby is larger at evens (five points over Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey) than it is in total points (four over Colorado’s Cale Makar). If the Canucks power play had been even league-average since the All Star break instead of 17.7% and 24th in the league over that stretch, it’s fair to assume that Quinn Hughes would still be chasing a 100-point season. As it is, he’s at 86 with six games to go. And based on his last two outings, it looks like the Canucks captain is dialling his game up again with the playoffs looming on the horizon.

Eyes on the Eagle

With his goal and assist in Arizona on Wednesday, Hughes moved into second in all-time points by a Canucks defenceman. He has 327 and trails only Alex Edler who finished his time in the organization with 409 points. So Hughes is 82 back of Edler and if he can stay healthy, he should move to the top of the heap around this time next year. When he was just 25 years old. It’s remarkable that Hughes accomplished things in a relatively short period of time. There is a world in which he remains a Canuck for his entire career and continues to rack up points for another decade. If that’s the case, someday the Canucks record book could show Quinn Hughes with 1,000 points and a 600-point gap between himself and Edler. There have only been eight 1,000-point defencemen in NHL history, so it would be a remarkable achievement for Hughes to join that club. Right now, he scores at a .910 point per game clip. At that rate, it would take him 1,100 games to reach 1,000 points. It’s a long way off still, but there is every reason to believe at his age and with his rate of production that, one day, Hughes will get there.

Goals galore

With three of the team’s last four goals, Hughes is now up to 16 on the season. It’s the highest total for a Canucks defenceman in more than 20 years. Hughes and Ed Jovanovski with 17 in 2001-02 are the franchise’s only blueliners since the turn of the millennium to score 16 goals in a season. If Hughes can net one more over the final six games, he’ll join a group at 17 that includes Jovanovski, Jyrki Lumme, Paul Reinhart and Dale Tallon for the fourth best goal-scoring season on record by a Canucks defenceman. If he can muster two more goals, Hughes will match Rick Lanz for the third highest output in franchise history at 18. He still has an outside shot at catching Doug Halward for second with 19. Adrian Aucoin’s franchise-best 23 goals in 1988-89 (which included an astounding 18 power-play goals) appears to be safe. For now.
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