Quinn Hughes’ growth as a shooter over one single offseason is difficult to believe
Photo credit:© Simon Fearn-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
Quinn Hughes presumably came into the 2023/24 season with a number of goals in mind, but one in particular that was stated outright: to become a better and more frequent shooter.
As Hughes put it in an interview with The Hockey News, “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. I’m trying to be more of a shot threat and trying to create more shots and rebounds and different things.”
So far, so very good.
It may only be eight games into the season, but it’s clear to anyone watching that Hughes’ campaign of self-improvement is already a mission: accomplished. That’s because Hughes hasn’t just improved as a shooter by his own standard, but by any reasonable standard that could be held up against the performance of an NHL defender.
Hughes hasn’t just become a more effective shooter, he’s become one of the most effective shooters from the blueline in the entire league.
The difference between Hughes’ shooting last year and this year is truly difficult to believe, but it is not impossible to quantify.
Throughout all of 2022/23, Hughes scored just seven goals, the result of just 154 shots on net through 78 games. That’s an average of just under two shots on goal per game, which might not sound like a lot, but is: Hughes still ranked 33rd overall among NHL defenders in terms of total shots. But not all shots are created equal, and Hughes’ 4.6% shooting percentage had him ranked deep within the middle of the leaguewide pack.
It’s also worth noting that all of this came with Hughes playing exceptionally heavy minutes on the man advantage as the Canucks’ one and only power play quarterback. In fact, 103 of Hughes’ 2022/23 shots came on the power play, as did five of his goals, leaving just 51 shots and two goals in all other situations.
Now, let’s compare that with the all-new, all-different Hughes of the 2023/24 campaign.
Hughes already has three goals on the year, putting him on pace for around 30 were he to keep it up for the entire 82-game schedule. He’s already up to 28 shots, an average of exactly 3.5 per game, which represents a 175% increase over his shooting rate of last season.
A full 19 of Hughes’ shots have come at even-strength, too, proving that he’s no longer relying on the power play for the vast majority of his chances.
So, in terms of quantity, he’s obviously got himself beat. But then the same could also be said of the quality. Hughes’ shooting percentage sits at 10.7%, which places him well within the top-20 of leaguewide defenders. Whether or not such a high percentage is sustainable remains to be seen, but just the fact that we’re not discounting it right away says a lot about how far Hughes has come.
Normally, more than doubling one’s shooting percentage over a single offseason would be considered a sign of good puck luck and unsustainable production. But it’s not hard to watch Hughes out there in 2023/24 and feel as though he’s become at least twice as good of a shooter. In this rare instance, the eye-popping stats match the eye-test, and they all point toward this aspect of Hughes’ game having undergone a genuine evolution.
Further evidence can be gleaned from the NHL’s now publicly-available EDGE system of personal stat-gathering.
It’s particularly interesting to note that Hughes is currently spending less of his time in the offensive zone compared to last season, with 45.5% in 2022/23 and 43.6% thus far in 2023/24. So, it’s not a question of opportunity, but of what Hughes is doing with that opportunity.
Hughes’ total amount of shots now places him in the 95th percentile of NHL defenders, whereas last season he topped out at the 82nd.
Hughes’ top speed of shot thus far has only been 85.05MPH, which is a fair bit lower than his hardest shot of 2022/23. But Hughes’ is clearly picking his spots more and aiming for a greater level of consistency over top-speed. No other NHL defender has attempted more shots, total, over a 70MPH threshold than Hughes on the 2023/24 season. That’s the measure the NHL uses for its bottom-rung of shot-tracking, because 70MPH is generally considered to be about the minimum speed a shot needs to be going in order to even have a chance of beating an NHL goalie.
So, of all the blueliners to suit up in the NHL thus far this season, none have attempted more shots that have the potential to turn into goals as Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks.
Which brings us back to why this matters and why it’s so hard to believe.
If there was a single weakness or flaw to be found in Hughes’ game circa last year, it was his shooting. Fans knew it, the media knew it, and Hughes himself definitely knew it.
Hughes’ capacity to, over the course of just a few summer months, transform that weakness into a strength is nothing short of remarkable. And we are talking improvement on a far greater scale than just the personal.
In 2022/23, Hughes was a below-average shooter. In 2023/24, he’s been one of the NHL’s best.
Since we’re on the topic of Vancouver Canucks captains, we can’t help but to bring up memories of Bo Horvat here. Tales are still told of how Horvat came into the league as someone whose skating was questioned, and then worked hard to become one of the best forward-drivers in the entire NHL.
It also recalls to the mind Hughes’ refurbishing of his defensive game over the summer of 2022.
Now, it sure looks as if Hughes has undergone a similar transformation when it comes to his shooting. It’s something that undoubtedly makes both Hughes and the Canucks a far more dangerous entity for opponents to contend with.
And it also raises plenty of questions about just how much more growth there may be hiding in Hughes’ already-world-class game.
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