It’s been a tumultuous year for the Vancouver Canucks, to say the least. But even with all the noise surrounding the organization, one player has been quietly putting together the best season of his short career: Quinn Hughes.
In last night’s 6-2 drubbing of the Ottawa Senators, Hughes put together a four point night, the first by a Canucks defenceman since a young man named Alex Elder did so against Chicago in 2009.
While the blue line around him has been largely suspect, Hughes has been pulling his own weight and then some all season. His 20 points in 23 games puts him in a four-way tie for third place among NHL defensemen in scoring; only defending Norris winner Adam Fox and John Carlson standing in his way.
In a season devoid of many positive Canucks stories to draw from, Hughes’ resurgence has flown almost entirely under the radar. In the shortened 2021 season, his struggles adapting to a much larger defensive role were well documented, but those concerns seem to be a thing of the past.
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Going from skating alongside a steady partner like Chris Tanev in one’s rookie season to needing to play the stabilizing role next to a Travis Hamonic or Tucker Poolman isn’t an easy adjustment for a 22-year-old to make. We saw as much when Hughes finished the COVID shortened year with an expected goals percentage of 46.11, meaning opponents were getting more scoring chances at 5v5 with him on the ice than he and his linemates were generating the other way.
This year, Hughes and the Canucks are on a pace of 51.38 percent with him on the ice at even strength. Putting together that kind of improvement is massive, especially when you factor in the current overmatched state of the rest of the Vancouver blue line. Now just imagine the heights he could reach with a set partner.
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With so many question marks on the right side, Hughes has had his linemates shuffled around multiple times. He and his most common partner, Tucker Poolman, have spent around 157 minutes on the ice together according to Evolving Wild. Compare that to Tyler Myers and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who’ve played approximately 248 minutes as a unit.
If last night was any indication, Travis Green may have finally found the most optimal option for Hughes in Luke Schenn. Schenn struggled to lock down a regular spot in the preseason, but against Ottawa, the pair looked comfortable at both ends of the ice and even connected on a gorgeous goal during the second period.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Thomas Drance, Hughes spoke highly of Schenn but also highlighted his belief that he can find success with any partner. “I just do my job. I do what I can, I go out there and do my thing. I’ll play with anyone, I’ll just play,” Hughes said. “It’s not my job to say who I’m going out there with and I like playing with Schenner. He brings the physical play and he keeps me dialled in.”
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Regardless of who he’s playing with, there’s no doubt that Quinn Hughes is finding real success in a Canucks season where it’s desperately needed. And with the Canucks bringing their first two game winning streak of the season back to Vancouver for a make-or-break homestand, maybe that progress Hughes has made is starting to rub off on his teammates at just the right time.