With the Canucks’ blueline unhealthy and inadequate, now is the time to try Quinn Hughes on the right
Photo credit:© Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
11 months ago
At the outset of the 2022/23 regular season, Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford infamously opined that the team had “a defence that is certainly adequate if it’s healthy.”
Obviously, he did not knock on wood after making that statement.
We are just two games into 2022/23, and the Vancouver blueline has proven neither healthy nor adequate.
Tyler Myers went down with an unnamed lower body injury midway through the exhibition schedule, one that will keep him out until closer to the end of October.
At nearly the exact same time, Travis Dermott suffered what everyone is pretty sure is a concussion, and the timeline for his return is currently unknown.
And, as if that weren’t plenty of defenceman-games-lost already, Tucker Poolman disappeared from the Canucks’ bench four periods into the regular season and did not return. If the rumours on the street are accurate, it’s another head-related ailment for Poolman, and that could be an extremely-extended absence.
That’s three defenders that were each projected to start in the Canucks’ top-six defence group, out for lengthy (and open-ended) stints to start the regular season.
To make matters worse, two of those defenders play the right side — and Dermott is a natural lefty who can play either side, but whom the Canucks were definitely hoping could take some fill-in shifts on the right.
Where was it in the depth chart that the pundits spent all summer saying the Canucks were desperately thin and weak?
Oh yeah…the right side of the blueline.
Just two games in, the Canucks are down two-and-a-half RHDs, and that’s the position that they could least afford to have face time.
The remaining RHD depth chart is best described as plucky, if uninspiring.
Trusty Luke Schenn is, for the time being, a de facto top pairing defender. He’s stepped up before and he’ll step up again, but it’s asking a lot of a guy who is probably best suited for the bottom-pairing.
Speaking of “best suited for the bottom-pairing,” Kyle Burroughs has had another exceptional training camp and a hot start to the season, but now he’ll be expected to slide into the top-four, and that’s not ideal, either.
At this point, the Canucks will need to first carve out some cap space via placing someone on LTIR (probably Poolman), and then they’ll need to call-up another defender. If it’s a RHD they are seeking, the Canucks will probably look to either Brady Keeper or Noah Juulsen.
(LATE NIGHT EDIT: It was Juulsen, and they didn’t move anyone to LTIR, they just sent Sheldon Dries down.)
That would have them skating into Monday’s matchup against the Capitals with a blueline setup of:
That’s a fairly questionable bunch to ask to defend against any NHL team, never mind one sporting the greatest goal scorer of all-time.
But what if there was a better solution, and what if that solution was one that has been staring the Canucks in the face for a while?
Yes, we’re talking about trying out Quinn Hughes on the right.
That experiment got floated this summer, and Hughes did wind up taking some shifts on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s right side throughout training camp and into exhibition, before it was ultimately decided that he was better off staying on his natural side.
But the Canucks’ circumstances have since changed drastically, and they say that necessity is the mother of all inventions, so what better time to innovate a creative fix?
Swapping Hughes over to the right, at least on a trial basis until Myers and/or Dermott return, is a short-term patch that could wind up having some long-term benefits. Even if it doesn’t, it should help the Canucks navigate through some dicey waters.
In essence, it would take the team’s biggest problem area, at its weakest point, and turn it into an area of strength by putting the team’s most talented player there. It makes plenty of sense on paper, so why not see if it makes sense on the ice?
Doing so would help Jack Rathbone finally get into the lineup on the left side.
The blueline would thus look something like:
That’s still not anything to write home about, but it’s a damn sight better than the prospective lineup we listed a few paragraphs below, and it’s a blueline more built to handle NHL competition.
In the short-term, it works. In the long-term, it could do a lot more than that. We’ve spoken at length before about how Hughes turning into a semi-regular feature on the right would go a long way toward ameliorating the Canucks’ largest organizational flaw. Such a move would instantly give Vancouver one of the rarest assets in hockey in the form of a top-pairing right-side defender, without ever having to pay the price of acquisition.
If Hughes were to find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson, it would also go a long way toward making the latter’s exorbitant contract easier to swallow.
And having those two locked in to the top pairing for a while would presumably make the rest of the blueline below them far easier to upgrade and sort out.
Of course, we have no idea whether the “Hughes on the Right” experiment will pan out. Maybe it won’t. But the potential benefits of it being a success are too great to ignore, and the Canucks are already pretty close to a “nothing to lose” scenario.
Now is the exact time to at least give it a (left-handed) shot.
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