The Captaincy Debate: Why Quinn Hughes should be the next captain of the Vancouver Canucks
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
Welcome to Part III of our four-part The Captaincy Debate series, in which we’re presenting our best cases for each of the serious candidates to put the ‘C’ in Canucks for the 2023/24 season.
We’ve covered JT Miller. We’ll cover Elias Pettersson tomorrow. But now it’s time for the forwards to take a step back and allow the team’s preeminent blueliner, Quinn Hughes, to take the spotlight.
A season or so ago, the notion of Hughes one day being the captain of an NHL team was almost laughable. He wasn’t just shy, he was almost awkward, and sometimes seemed to be in genuine physical pain while answering questions from reporters.
But, hey, if everyone’s personality were defined in their late-teens and early-20s, we’d all probably be in trouble. Hughes has grown up, and he’s grown up as a Canuck, ready to face the intensity of scrutiny than comes with being a prominent player in Vancouver.
Whenever Hughes speaks now, he’s still quiet, but there’s a lot more meaning behind the words. He’s spoken up well on topics like pride nights and the team’s ongoing on-ice struggles. He displayed a willingness to protect his teammates when he spoke out on Tanner Pearson’s ongoing surgical issues. Hughes is not a man of many words, and he probably never will be, but maybe that’s just perfect for this market.
There is such a thing as saying too much. If Hughes is the captain, that’s never going to be a problem.
Not a lot of words, just the right ones.
But enough about the media. We’re not that important. What really matters is what happens on the ice, and who’s on the ice more than Quinn Hughes? Not many people.
Last year, Hughes ranked fourth in the entire NHL in average ice-time with 25:40 a night. The only players who averaged more than him were Cale Makar, Drew Doughty, and Rasmus Dahlin.
We talked a lot about the impact that Miller and Pettersson make on the ice in our previous articles, but if you’re looking for the person who makes the most frequent impact on the ice for the Canucks, its undoubtedly Hughes. He’s out there for half the damn game.
And let’s be honest here, the minutes are not really what folks write home about when they discuss Hughes’ game. For as much offence as Miller and Pettersson contribute, Hughes is right there with them.
Since joining the team in 2019, Hughes is third on the team in scoring, but leads the Canucks with a staggering 212 assists over that span, 19 ahead of Miller.
In fact, those 212 assists are seventh in the entire NHL since 2019.
If a captain is supposed to support their teammates, why not the guy with the near-generational amount of helpers on his resume?
We talked about Pettersson and the way in which he drives the Canucks’ offence, but we’ll use a different word when it comes to Hughes: he carries the offence. The NHL is rapidly becoming a game of skating, puck movement, and puck possession, which are probably Hughes’ three greatest traits. He’s the very definition of a modern defender, and that allows him to quite literally set the pace of play whenever he’s out there on the ice. In that sense, he’s already been a leader of the Canucks for a few years running.
Those traditional captainly traits aren’t going to suddenly appear in his game. Hughes is never going to be a yeller, nor is he the type to go drop the gloves when a teammate has been slighted. But there’s being a vocal leader, and then there’s leading by example. Hughes is a workhorse who will never be out-efforted, and that sort of leader has typically done very well in Vancouver.
And there’s probably more old school captain in Hughes than might meet the eye, anyway. We’ve seen glimpses of on-ice passion, like the time he roughed up an opponent at the World Juniors who dared to cheapshot his brother Jack.
Speaking of which, there’s some family history to consider here. Historically, the captain is meant to be a go-between for the players and the coaching staff. Good thing, then, that Hughes is the son of former NCAA, AHL, KHL, and NHL coach Jim Hughes, who later settled into a role as Toronto’s director of player development. Hughes’ mother, Ellen, was also an NCAA coach. We’re no geneticists, but we think a DNA test would say Hughes is 100% that coach.
Who better to liaise with the coaches and management than someone with coaching literally in his blood? Hughes has a foot in both worlds, and surely knows how to talk on both sides of the dressing room wall.
We talked a little bit about Miller’s contract in his article, and how it could be interpreted as a show of commitment. Well, consider then that Hughes was the first member of this current Canucks’ core to sign a long-term contract, and that he’s still on the books until 2027. He’ll be 27 when it ends, which is perfect timing to sign another long-term contract that covers all of his remaining productive years.
If he wants to be, Hughes is easily a Canuck for life. And giving him the captaincy both makes it more likely that he’ll stay, and could be seen as a partial reward for his pre-existing loyalty.
On a team that already runs the gamut from silent superstar Pettersson to the brazen Miller, Hughes represents a fine middle-ground.
He talks without saying too much. He competes hard without being stupid about it. He contributes more than almost anyone else to the team’s success, but does so in a naturally non-attention-grabbing way that always leaves plenty of spotlight for his teammates.
He’s also someone with an enormous capacity for growth. It took him about a year from being called “a small body” by Brian Burke on the draft floor to being the Calder Trophy runner-up and going point-per-game in the playoffs as a rookie. It took him less time than that to start being called the most talented blueliner in Vancouver history.
Just a season ago, Hughes faced questions about his ability to defend at the NHL level. One offseason and one regular season later, and he was receiving Norris Trophy votes.
At the core of all that improvement? Work. Just good old fashioned, non-flashy, dedicated work. Hughes doesn’t make a big deal out of off-ice workouts or summer training, he just puts in the hours and shows up every year even better at those same skills at which he already has most hockey players in the world beat.
Now that’s an example that anyone can follow.
Hughes’ career arc has been that of a space shuttle, and it’s one that doesn’t seem to be stopping for orbit anytime soon. There are few who doubt that he’ll continue from here and ascend to the very upper echelons of NHL defenders, if he’s not already there.
As captain, could he carry the rest of the Canucks with him on his ascension?
Why not? He already carries the team on the ice most of the time.
Tune in throughout the weekend for further editions of The Captaincy Debate.
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