Hockey is a team sport and being such it’s hard to pin down a key player as being critical for the success off a franchise. That being said, the Vancouver Canucks in 2021-22 started out the season as the NHL nominee for dumpster fire of the year and somehow finished up the year almost making the postseason. One of the key ingredients to the Canucks success (for lack of a better phrase” has been on the shoulders of defenseman Quinn Hughes.
Hughes was one of the big 2018 NHL draft picks ( selected in Round One, number seven overall) out of the University of Michigan and comes from a hockey-crazed family with his father Jim a former collegiate player at Providence and later an assistant coach at various levels. Not to be outdone, Hughes’ mother Ellen was a sports force of nature at the University of New Hampshire and played hockey, soccer and lacrosse during her collegiate days. Hughes of course has brothers Luke and Jake with Luke following in Quinn’s skates in Ann Arbor while Jake is a regular fixture on the New Jersey Devils roster.
Being a highly touted and equally talented player on an NHL team that hits rock bottom can be both a blessing and a curse for a young player’s career. Although built rather ‘small” for the prototype modern defenseman, Hughes is 5 foot ten inches tall and right around 180 pounds and certainly doesn’t exude brutal physicality as a blueliner. That’s where he’ll catch you off guard and show why Hughes is considered to be one of the elite defensemen in the NHL.
The Offensive Defenseman
This seeming contradiction in terms really does sum up how Quinn Hughes plays the game of hockey. In the modern game, hockey has broken up blueliners into the larger, traditional defensemen who help protect the slot and use their physical size and strength in support of their goaltenders and break up opposing attacks. Hockey has evolved with speed and quick transitions from defense to offense the norm and this has created a new hybrid style of blueliners that we like to call offensive defensemen. Quinn Hughes fits this bill quite well and despite the horrible start to the Canucks season last year, he was able to be both a defensive and offensive contributor to the overall cause.
As a blueliner, Hughes played in 76 games during the 2021-22 season and racked up eight goals and an astounding 60 assists for 68 total points. Hughes’ 68 points set a franchise record last year and his 60 assists also set a new franchise standard as well. In a total of 205 games played in his NHL career, Hughes has generated 19 goals and a solid 146 assists which spells out a term to describe Hughes’ playing style: pesky. Hughes not only contributes defensively and has built more awareness of his surroundings to generate a plus-1o but uses the blueline as an attacking platform as well. Already seen as a type of quarterback on the power play, Hughes was used extensively last season on the penalty kill and helped turn around the Canucks season last December.
What to expect in 2022-23
Quinn Hughes will continue to develop as an elite-level defenseman and his attacking skills should help guide the Canucks towards a more fruitful season this year. Head coach Bruce Boudreau is in his option year of his contract and should push the Canucks towards a much stronger early season in reverse of last year’s early season collapse. Hughes should focus on developing his fast skating abilities and passing to harness his offensive skill set. If he can do these things consistently, Hughes should see his point production continue to soar and he’ll be on target to become one of the elite blueliners in the NHL. Interestingly enough, Hughes is considering moving from the left to the right side this season and this move may be the catalyst to help him move from being great to achieving greatness this year. Hughes has five years remaining on his six year, $47.1 million dollar contract and looks to be worth every penny of it for the Canucks as they enter the new season.