It’s not ideal but it may be the best we can get.
Quinn Hughes is signed and is jumping onto this ship and will attempt to sail it straight into the 2021-22 playoffs. The biggest problem is that his regular partner Travis Hamonic is currently away from the rink as he deals with a personal matter.
Hughes is about to be re-inserted to the Canucks’ lineup and it’s likely that he slides in beside Tyler Myers.
We know that Hughes is at his best when he is partnered up with a stay-at-home defenceman who gives him the chance to run freely and play to his offensive strengths. He is also the best defenceman at breaking out of the defensive zone and that may be Myers’ top skill as well. Though the size of Myers makes him look like a fine partner for Hughes, the pairing struggled immensely last season in their 171 minutes together last season.
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The Hughes-Myers pairing controlled only 17.7% of the goal share last season. They were on the ice for three goals scored and 14 against. Last season, the goals for were a problem but in the 2019-20 season, the duo scored at a rate that was almost double their 2020-21 season. In 2019-20, the pairing scored at a 4.04 goals for per 60 minutes rate. They were able to team up with the Lotto Line and dominate the goal share. The five-man unit scored at an astonishing 6.06 GF/60 while allowing zero goals against in 59 and a half minutes of play.
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There has been success with Myers and Hughes as a pairing in the past. Now, as the Canucks’ forward group looks to have taken a big step in talent, the Hughes-Myers pairing may end up not being as bad as it was last year.
Well, we can almost guarantee they won’t be as bad as they were last year, because they were horrible last year.
The biggest worry is that Myers will continue to believe that he is a primary puck-mover. Myers was the primary puck-mover when he was playing with Alex Edler last season and when he was with Dmitry Kulikov in Winnipeg. The difference is that he needs to now be the more defensive part of the pairing as Hughes is simply a better puck-mover than Myers. We have seen the pairing of Jack Rathbone and Myers not work because both are trying to be offensive-defencemen and it tends to just hurt the pairing when both defencemen are consistently launching into the offensive zone.
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If Hughes-Myers is going to be a thing, Myers is going to need to take his foot off the gas and be more responsible with his offensive zone pinches. Hughes is the defenceman that you want engaged in the offence the most. Myers can find a role in the offensive zone alongside Hughes but it likely comes from him being a shooting option more than anything. Hughes does a great job walking the line and moving around in the offensive zone with the puck. If that is the case, Myers can rotate to the left side and get one-timers off while also being a shooting option on the right side without a rotation.
The pairing as a whole should do a good job of transitioning the puck out of the defensive zone because both players can carry or pass the puck for a breakout. The worry is just how they will play in stationary defence.
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There isn’t as much to worry about with Hughes and Myers’ rush defence. Both can skate well and the danger zone is once the opposition is set up in the Canucks’ zone. Myers struggles with pucks in tight to his body and that is a bad knock to have in your game as a defenceman. Simply put, Hughes needs to have a better defensive season this year. He made some big mistakes last year and was out-bodied on multiple occasions in 2020-21.
This is where Brad Shaw can show his worth to the Canucks’ organization.
If Hughes and Myers is a pairing, they will definitely be the leading minute munchers at even-strength.
We know that Shaw’s specialty is working with defencemen, but coaching up a pairing that had a 3-14 goals for to against ratio is quite the ask.
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The other options for Hughes to play with are Luke Schenn, Brad Hunt on his wrong side, or potentially a waiver wire pickup.
Schenn could be an option but that is a lot to ask from a player who was signed to be a depth defenceman for the Canucks. It makes more sense for Schenn to saddle up with Rathbone or Hunt on a third pairing and play much fewer minutes at even-strength.
One other option that I believe should be explored is Tucker Poolman.
I understand that Poolman has been partnered up with Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the whole preseason and training camp but it hasn’t even been two weeks. If you are looking to use Ekman-Larsson as your big minute muncher at five-on-five, then sure, put Poolman with him. It just makes a lot more sense to have your best defenceman be the one leading in ice time. If that’s the case, then Poolman should be alongside Hughes.
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Poolman has impressed with his skating ability and knows his role as a defensive defenceman. He won’t take risks and opens the door for Hughes to be as aggressive as he desires. Ekman-Larsson is going to have tough minutes with the penalty kill and if the Canucks play him on the most used even-strength pairing, the 18 minutes of five-on-five plus his penalty killing time will have him worn out by the second week of the season.
Hughes and Poolman as the team’s most used even-strength pairing makes sense on so many levels and is a safer option than using Hughes with Myers. I don’t think we will see Travis Green get away from the OEL-Poolman pairing and we expect to see Hughes-Myers be a thing on opening night. If Hughes and Myers is a pairing, they will definitely be the leading minute munchers at even-strength. There’s not a lot of confidence in this pairing but unfortunately, with the situations occurring in the Canucks’ defence core, this may be the best they have.
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Without Travis Hamonic, Hughes is between a rock and hard place and the pressure now turns to Brad Shaw to work his so-called magic on the Canucks’ defence pairings.