After three pandemic-affected seasons, Quinn Hughes is ready to go.
The star Canucks defenceman sat down with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman during the recent NHL/NHLPA player media tour. His interview was released on Monday in the newest 32 Thoughts podcast.
“I’m really excited about the team this year, we added some good players,” Hughes said. “[The] first camp with Bruce is gonna be good and should be competitive.”
Vancouver enters training camp with intriguing potential, having added to their roster amidst a weak Pacific Division. There are question marks that remain, but the early returns seem promising.
“I had no expectations,” Hughes said on the Canucks’ offseason. “They’re gonna do what they wanna do.” However, the young defenceman is liking what he is seeing. “I was happy with what they did. I didn’t know this Kuzmenko kid at all, but I skated with him yesterday and … [he looked] really good.”
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He went on to talk about a more understated piece in Curtis Lazar, who’s projected to be on the Canucks’ fourth line to start the year.
“Lazar is gonna be a great addition because it’s always been Bo [Horvat] that has to take the d-zone faceoff, sacrificing himself and grinding it out in the d-zone,” Hughes said. “I think Lazar will be able to take some of that, and Millsy, and hopefully Petey will be able to expand as well.”
It’s an aspect that doesn’t necessarily jump to mind immediately. Horvat long has been used to match up against the toughest assignments on the opposing team, and having someone to help take the burden off of his shoulders slightly could help in giving some more offensive punch to this team. Horvat is capable of putting up points but hasn’t been placed in a role that has allowed him to do so.
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When asked about his reaction to J.T. Miller re-upping with the Canucks, Hughes was just as much in the dark as the fanbase. “To be honest, I was surprised to see Miller signed, because I didn’t hear anything about it.”
“I was surprised, but I was very happy.”
Similar sentiments were present about his team captain, whose deal expires at the end of the 2021-22 season. “Bo could sign today, and I’d have no idea. I’m hoping they get that done, and I think they will.”
Hughes also shed some light on Brock Boeser’s rough 2021-22 campaign, where the winger dealt with the deteriorating health of his father Duke.
“You see him in September, then you leave, and Duke can’t travel,” Hughes said as he described how Boeser wasn’t able to stay in touch with his family at a critical time. “The next time we played Minnesota was in April and I think Brock couldn’t believe … how the situation was going. Contract year is hard enough.”
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He is optimistic about what comes next.
“He had a really good summer after everything that happened, he’s excited, he’s got his deal done and he really enjoys Vancouver. I hope he has a really good year, I think he will.”
Speaking of getting a contract done, Hughes talked about his own contract negotiations that saw him miss the 2021 training camp. A lot more went into it than just the offseason, stemming from the stressors of an abbreviated 2020-21 season.
“I was more worried about my game,” Hughes said when asked if his family’s experience in hockey helped him with the contract situation. “I wasn’t playing that great, I was really uptight about my game and not my contract.”
“If I get 7.5 or 8.25 I’m still doing okay, it’s basically just an ego thing at that point.”
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He goes on to discuss a little about how the pandemic affected Quinn Hughes the person, not just Quinn Hughes the hockey player.
“Another thing that no one talks about, everyone dealt with this but it was the COVID year, I would go to the rink, skate at 10 am, be home by 1 pm,” Hughes described. “You weren’t allowed to leave your apartment. I’d be by myself from 1 to like, 11 at night, all my family is in the US, you’re just sitting alone in your apartment. ”
“That was tougher than anything, for the whole season.”
The quarantine restrictions didn’t help either. “I was just sitting in my apartment fourteen days, and I did that twice,” Hughes laughed, talking about getting into Canada the first time around, and then the second time when the Canucks were ravaged by the virus.
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Thanks to the postponement of games, Vancouver closed out their season in the North Division while the playoffs were underway. Hughes recalls what the mood was like when they were playing meaningless regular season games.
“We called it the mud bowl,” He said about the Calgary games at the end of the 2021 season. Both the Canucks and Flames had been eliminated from playoff contention by that point. But Hughes shut down any discussion about him throwing the games.
“Contract year!” He joked.
But even in these moments, Hughes and the rest of the Canucks showed that they absolutely hated losing. “Petey was injured, we had a couple of guys out, we didn’t have anyone playing,” Hughes recalled. “We were losing 5-1 in the second last game of the year, going into the third I remember Millsy just saying ‘Alright, this is embarrassing.’ We tie the game 5-5, imagine that!”
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“Game 2 is going on in the Islanders series, we’re mucking it out, it was a crazy game. I don’t even remember who won.”
The offseason was a fun one for Hughes and his family, getting to train, golf, and surf together. It’s also given him time to reflect on his performances and find that next step.
“I was happy with how my year went, and I think they [the Canucks] were too,” Hughes started off. With 68 points in 76 games, it represented a new career high. But he knows there’s areas to improve, on and off the ice.
“For me, it’s all mental, Roman Josi had 110 more shots than me and I think that’s a crazy stat. So for me, just shooting a bit more. But then off the ice, trying to expand as a leader. Being at the rink earlier, working out, just being a professional, and just trying to expand my role on the team.”
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“I think I’m ready for that.”
Quinn isn’t going to suddenly become a new person. “I’m always gonna be who I am. That doesn’t mean I have to be first to the rink,” he said. “Just trying to push in any way I can to get an edge.”
It’s stuff that he does already, and things that the Canucks brass recognize he does well. “I love hockey, I’m always there on the ice early and the last guy off the ice. They just want to see me try to be the best I can be in every situation and in every area. I welcome that,” Hughes said.
“I want to be a leader. If I’m doing those things, then I can ask my teammates to do those things.”
Hughes knows that his career, his experience has been building. It’s something that he hopes will pay off as he enters his fourth year in the NHL.  “My first year, everything was perfect. It was like rainbows. I went in and did very well,” he laughed. “The second year I struggled, I remember going into the summer like ‘man, I gotta dial it in, I gotta have a better year,’ and I think I did that.”
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“But at the start of last season, I was nervous going into the year because I didn’t have camp,” Hughes said as he dealt with inconsistent play and an early injury. However, as he got it back on the rails, the centrepiece defenceman found himself finishing with a career year.
Overcoming those struggles gives him the platform for that next step.
“I’m at a point where I’m able to push this thing and see what I can do.”