Who is the best defence partner for Quinn Hughes?

Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
11 months ago
With Vancouver’s blueline signings more or less complete for the summer, it’s not too soon to think about who Quinn Hughes’ partner will be for next season. Luke Schenn is now a Nashville Predator, while Ethan Bear looks like he’ll be out until at least January, and may not even re-sign with the Vancouver Canucks.
So out of Filip Hronek, Tyler Myers, Ian Cole, and Carson Soucy, which defenceman makes the most sense and is the best partner for Hughes?

Filip Hronek

Most fans would immediately jump to the former Detroit defenceman acquired in March of 2023. Filip Hronek only made 4 appearances in a Canucks uniform last season before being shut down so as not to risk re-aggravating his shoulder injury. He’s probably the most talented right-handed defenceman on the team and at first glance would be more than enough to pair up with Hughes on the top pairing.
Hronek was having a breakout season at the point of the trade. He was the best statistical player of any Detroit defender (and yes, that includes Mortiz Seider) and was finally trending back in the right direction in terms of his development. Not only was Hronek leading the Red Wings’ defencemen in goals, assists, shots, and points, his total of 38 points ranked him as the second-highest scorer on the team. This was coming alongside the likes of Ben Chiarot and Olli Määttä as his most frequent partners.
What Hronek excels in is his competitiveness as a defender. He’s very good when it comes to gap control, often able to win out in 1-on-1 situations while supplying plenty of pressure with his body and stick to disrupt zone entries. This coupled with good vision in his own end makes it so that Hronek can cut out seam passes and look instantly to move the puck out in transition.
So is Hronek the best partner for Hughes? It’s not as cut and dry as putting the two best defencemen on the team together on the same pairing, especially in the Canucks’ case. Their games do complement each other well, with Hughes probably able to compensate for Hronek as the primary puck-mover. While the Czech isn’t bad, passing isn’t the strongest aspect of his game (ranked fourth amongst Detroit defencemen in defensive zone exits). Hronek prefers to skate the puck out but doesn’t have the high-end speed or edgework to escape forechecking pressure. When forced to make a pass, sometimes it gets a little dicey.
But at the same time, their strengths feel very much aligned with the others. Both are the quarterback type of defencemen, mobile and looking to break the puck out while also being defensively competent to the point of elevating their other partners. It would be really nice to see a Hughes-Hronek pair when this team is chasing the game. But, it would make more sense to have the pair split up. It’s reminiscent of Nate Schmidt’s one season with the Canucks, where having Hughes-Schmidt together would’ve been the best combination as a top-d pairing, but instead splitting the duties so that the overall depth of the lineup was better.
A lot of Hronek’s success also came through lighter deployment. Moritz Seider still handled the majority of the top matchups in Detroit, with Hronek receiving the most starts in the offensive zone amongst Red Wing defencemen with over 40 games played both off faceoffs (50.31) and shift starts (48.18). Hronek recorded the majority of his points on the powerplay too – something that won’t be the case with the Canucks.

Tyler Myers

Now this might not sound the most appealing on paper, Tyler Myers represents a real option to play alongside Hughes. He’s now the longest-tenured RHD on the Canucks roster and hasn’t turned in the worst results alongside Vancouver’s best defenceman.
Obviously, last season wasn’t Myers’ best. He spent the year mostly alongside Oliver-Ekman Larsson, putting up some miserable stats as Vancouver’s second-pairing. At 5v5, the duo coughed up 221 scoring chances against and 101 high-danger chances against, the most of any pairing on the roster. There’s things to consider such as OEL’s hobbled foot, some rough deployments, but the numbers speak for themselves – 2022-23 was a year to forget for Myers.
In that span though, Myers did cameo with Hughes, and the numbers aren’t awful. In 219 minutes together, Hughes-Myers recorded 51.85 CF%, 48.80 xGF% and 48,89 HDCF%. Not awful given the context of the team around them, though it certainly didn’t maximize their talents. They were able to tread above water, but that isn’t necessarily what you want to have with your best defenceman.
Myers’ main attributes are his reach and relatively good mobility for his size. He’s able to be physical with opposing forwards and clear out the front of the net. But, Myers’ tendency to gamble ends up hurting the team more often than it helps, while his awareness in his own end isn’t the best as well. Those minor penalties he takes certainly don’t help his case when trying to be a top-4 staple in the NHL.
While Hughes-Myers has previously proven to be a serviceable pairing in the past, it definitely does not make Myers the best partner for Hughes. His strengths are unable to compliment those of Hughes’, and those defensive deficiencies will probably put too much pressure and load on Hughes to compensate, thus limiting his effectiveness. This is a pairing I would expect to see only if injuries start accumulating.

Ian Cole

The former Tampa Bay Lightning defender was long rumoured to be joining the Canucks when the offseason started and looks to be an important piece of Vancouver’s defence for next season. But, is the two-sided Ian Cole a good fit alongside Hughes?
Cole spend the majority of his time last season with Erik Cernak, the pair of them being one of Tampa most effective shutdown pairings. Cole-Cernak controlled a 52.29 CF%, 53.23 xGF%, 55.79 SCF%, and 61.05 HDCF% together, which is excellent given their usage in the Bolts’ lineup. They might not put up big points but Cole and Cernak were very good at keeping the puck out of their own net. In 607:18 minutes together, Cole-Cernak only gave up 22 goals.
Cole plays a physical defensive game, blocking shots and minimizing rebounds near the net. A big concern would be the amount of PIMs he takes, recording 61 minutes to finish third on the roster and 72nd overall in the NHL. It might not sound like a lot but it does add up, impacting how effective he would be for a team if a lot of time is spent in the penalty box. That being said, it could also speak to the edge that Cole plays with, which will always make it harder for opponents to take liberties against the Canucks.
He’s posted some great defensive metrics, but it remains to be seen if Cole can replicate that performance in a Vancouver uniform. Rick Tocchet is still installing the defensive systems that he wants this team to play, and it could prove to be an adjustment for Cole to make. Not to mention, if he is elevated to first-pairing duties alongside Hughes, there’s going a lot more pressure on him to deliver that stabilizing defensive presence on the lineup. There aren’t expectations for him to be racking up points – but he can’t be dragging Hughes down.
Stylistically, it makes sense. Cole isn’t Chris Tanev but certainly plays with more defensive stability than Hughes’ partners in the past. His numbers away from Cernak were about the same as with him, which is encouraging to the fact that Cole wasn’t dragging his partner down and instead playing to his level. It’ll be interesting to see if Cole will spend significant minutes with Hughes, and if so, what sort of numbers the pair will put up together. The hope is that he will be solid enough to allow Hughes to play at his best – which would be the best-case scenario for the Canucks.

Carson Soucy

The big signing of free agency comes in the form of Carson Soucy. Being able to play both sides defensively, he represents the investment that this management wants to make on the back end to make this team better. Is he the right fit to play alongside Quinn Hughes?
Soucy dominated his third-pairing minutes with Will Borgen and Justin Schultz. His CF% of 51.70 at 5v5 play ranked him as the 4th best Seattle defenceman in that category amongst players with over 70 games played. His xGF% of 51.36 at 5v5 was the third-best in the Kraken d-corps, while Soucy’s xGA of 43.70 put him first among defenders. On the flip side though, Soucy’s matchups were relatively easier as a result of being further down the depth chart, on top of his 58.62% offensive zone starts and 54.84% offensive faceoff starts being the highest of any Kraken defencemen outside of Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn, thus possibly giving his numbers a bit of a lift.
Management believes that Soucy can take another step and become a top-4 defenceman – and it isn’t without reason. Soucy is a very intelligent player, his hockey IQ allowing him to be patient, process the situation in front of him and jump in when it makes sense. He’s rarely ever out of position and uses his motor and size to clear opponents out of dangerous areas. Soucy’s lateral quickness allows him to defend the line while also controlling the gaps. It’s the anti-Gudbranson, where a clear brain is observed in the player and they can have faith in him being able to learn and adjust.
The one area that brings Soucy’s value down is his puck-moving ability. Rather, his puck handling isn’t where it needs to be at an NHL top-4 level. He struggles at times with puck retrievals, while putting pucks into 50-50 situations when he has other options available to him. Now, if he’s paired up with Quinn Hughes, this won’t be as big of an issue since Hughes can break pucks out on his own as the primary puck-mover, but still presents a wart in Soucy’s game that needs to be accommodated for.
Soucy does make sense to be paired up with Hughes. Their styles seem to complement each other well and could play to their strengths. But, we saw last year what a difference a defencemen who excelled at puck retrievals could make in Ethan Bear. Soucy will need to improve that aspect of his game if he is to really take the next step in becoming a veritable top-4 option. Can that happen? It remains to be seen, especially in elevated minutes.

The Verdict

There’s going to be a lot of lineup projections in the months to come. With the options the Canucks have acquired to play alongside Quinn Hughes, it’s going to be interesting to see who will be the best fit alongside the dynamic puck-moving defenceman for next season. As it stands right now, Hronek would be the best possible partner for Hughes. In terms of best fit, it would be Cole and Soucy, both of which have question marks surrounding deployment in a daily top-4 role. If one of the two can figure it out alongside Hughes, it would make Vancouver’s defence all that more solid as a result.

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