Canucks Under the Microscope: Quinn Hughes

Blueliner had 68 points to pass 63-point franchise standard set by Doug Lidster in 1986-87. He also had 60 assists to better the record of 55 set by Dennis Kearns in 1976-77

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We’re looking back at the 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks with a focus on Quinn Hughes. Over the coming weeks, we’ll break down the season and take a look at how player situations stack up going into 2022-23 …

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Name: Quinn Hughes

Age: 22.

Position: Defense.

Career stats: GP: 205 G: 19, W: 146, Sts: 165.

Contract status: Five years remaining on six-year, US $47.1-million back-loaded extension that carries an annual US $7.85-million salary-cap hit. The total annual salary maxes out to $10.250 million in 2025-26.

How 2021-22 went: Persistence. Patience. Productivity. Hughes was removed from the first power-play unit at one point in a November not to remember — the club struggled with a 4-9-1 record — and was then added to the penalty kill in December to help spark a remarkable turnaround. He also dramatically improved his defensive awareness—from minus-24 to plus-10—and eclipsed two long-standing franchise records for defensemen. Hughes finished with 68 points (8-60) to pass the 63-point standard set by Doug Lidster in the 1986-87 season and had 60 assists to better the record of 55 set by Dennis Kearns in 1976-77.

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Lidster first came to admire Hughes when he was a budding star at the University of Michigan because you can teach a lot of things, but you can’t teach skill, anticipation and execution.

“He just attracts your eye all the time,” Lidster recalled. “What really stood out is a guy who’s that exceptional usually tries to skate himself out of trouble.

“He made that quick pass before there was any kind of trouble — even if he was going backward, to his right or left. It was just as hard as if he was skating in full stride and it was always tape to tape.

“In his first NHL year, he was quarterbacking the power play and made a pass from the left side to the right flank. And while that guy was shooting, he was turning his head to see what his possible options were if he got the puck back. He’s thinking a step or two ahead of everybody.”

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How the future looks: The challenge for Hughes is to take his game to another level. Already considered one of the game’s better emerging young blueliners, he needs to augment quick skating, quick thinking and laser-like passing with more of an offensive-zone presence at even strength. It could allow him to close in on what Cale Makar, 23, and Adam Fox, 24, have done this season for the Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers, respectively.

Makar had an eye-popping 86 regular-season points (28-58) to finish second to Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators in back-end production. Makar is also second in playoff scoring among blueliners with 22 points (5-17). Fox was fourth in defenseman scoring in the regular season with 74 points (11-63) and exited the playoffs with the lead among his peers with 23 points (5-18).

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Hughes finished eighth in scoring among blueliners in the regular season and was fifth in power-play production with 31, just seven back of leader Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, Hughes ranked 41st in shots (150) and his shooting percentage was 112th (5.3). And while he remains dynamic at finding the open man, getting shots through with more velocity and accuracy is his next natural development step.

Hughes works on all aspects of his game in the off-season and a better shot comes with the zest to be good in all zones.

“I usually have goals and I want to be up there with the best defensemen, but I was motivated and focused on trying to have a good overall game,” said Hughes. “I was just taking it 10 games at a time and never really looked at a number — I just played and that’s just how the year has been.”

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Maybe Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau put it best about the defenseman’s inner drive to succeed.

“He’s a special player, but he’s going to break that (franchise points) record five times from now,” predicted Boudreau. “He knows he’s going to do a lot better in the future.”

Greatest strengths: Creativity and adaptability. Added another penalty-kill dimension by using a quick retreat to outlet dump-ins and quickly move pucks to force the power play to regroup. “Petey and Quinn being used on the penalty kill is a real important thing,” said Boudreau. “You need guys who have great hand-eye co-ordination to knock down pucks and anticipate pucks. And guys who are really savvy in areas with the puck. They’re really good at that.”

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Greatest weakness: Fleet feet and playing pace often lead to Hughes pinching to outnumber the opposition in the offensive zone. It can lead to turnovers and odd-man rushes that must be reduced.

Is he trade bait? Not a chance. An untouchable roster with Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko.

The big question: Can the star become a superstar? Not a good idea to bet against Hughes.

[email protected]

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