Vancouver Canucks: Learning curve imminent with arrival of Quinn Hughes

VICTORIA , BC - DECEMBER 29: Quinn Hughes #7 of the United States versus Sweden at the IIHF World Junior Championships at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on December 29, 2018 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)
VICTORIA , BC - DECEMBER 29: Quinn Hughes #7 of the United States versus Sweden at the IIHF World Junior Championships at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on December 29, 2018 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images) /

Quinn Hughes is a top-end talent. There’s no denying that, but fans need to be patient with the young defenceman through his first handful of games when he signs with the Vancouver Canucks.

When the Vancouver Canucks drafted Quinn Hughes with the seventh overall pick at the 2018 draft in Dallas, they knew they were getting a great puck-moving defenceman.

Hughes was not supposed to be available for the Canucks to select, but after the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes made surprise picks, the pre-destined order for the Canucks had shifted.

It was widely agreed upon that the Canucks would be drafting a defenceman but not many would have thought Hughes would be available at pick number seven. The Detroit Red Wings — who were picking one spot ahead of the Canucks — were very open with their interest in Hughes, so in turn, Canucks fans had their sights set on the likes of Noah Dobson, Adam Boqvist, and Evan Bouchard, among others. No one would have thought the young University of Michigan defenceman would be available after the Detroit Red Wings picked at number six.

When the Canadiens passed up on Filip Zadina, and he was still available at sixth, there was a split-second where Canucks fans leaned in a little closer to their televisions. We were either going to have a shot at Zadina or Hughes, depending on who the Red Wings selected.

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The Red Wings picked Zadina, and like many folks watching the draft from Vancouver, general manager Jim Benning had a big grin on his face as he took the stage to announce the selection of the young Hughes. The Canucks got the best defenceman in the draft not named Rasmus Dahlin, and Canuck nation was — much like Benning, very thrilled with the pick.

I, like many fans, immediately looked into buying tickets for the annual Canucks Summer Showdown. I had unfortunately missed out on watching Elias Pettersson’s outstanding performance at the event just a year before, but told myself I would not miss out on Hughes first performance in a Canucks’ uniform.

When Canucks public address announcer Al Murdoch announced Hughes’ name in the starting lineup, Rogers Arena got loud as fans applauded and cheered for the youngster. With all that, and the fans yelling Ric Flair’s signature “Woo” chant whenever Jett Woo touched the puck or made a hit, the event became very memorable.

Hughes performance at the event showed what we fans had already heard about him. His edge work, speed, and all around skating ability were jaw-dropping, to say the least. I leaned over to my cousin who I attended the event with and said, “this kid’s not good enough to be on the Canucks defence this year?”

I watched closely whenever Hughes was on the ice and tried to take note as to how his play was on the defensive side of the ice. He showed off his solid stick-checking ability, and seemed to do exceptionally well at using his body position to negate scoring chances, and on many occasions, pickpocket the offensive player and turn the play the other way for his team. I was beyond excited about the young defenceman.

Hughes was making breakout pass after breakout pass and was running the offence beautifully. I began to get giddy just thinking about those crisp breakout passes being received by the likes of Pettersson and Brock Boeser. With this great performance, I noticed a couple of turnovers coming off of the stick of Hughes. It was nothing alarming, just a few simple mistakes, none of which cost his team a goal.

There was one play where Hughes tried to make a pass to his defence partner at the offensive blueline, but it was picked off. Hughes then showed off his skating ability even further and hustled back, catching up to the forward who had a partial breakaway and disrupting his scoring opportunity. But what if that forward was an NHLer, say Connor McDavid? It would be very difficult for Hughes to catch up to him after making that mistake.

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Hughes is an extremely talented player who makes jaw-dropping plays offensively, but it’s important that fans don’t lose faith in the young defenceman after he makes a few mistakes. There will be a learning curve when Hughes signs with the team this March. For every great offensive play that leads to a grade-A scoring chance, there may very well be a turnover that follows shortly after from Hughes.

And that’s okay. Having a turnover every once in a while but creating great offensive chances with a top-tier puck-moving ability is better than simply turning every offensive play into a dump and chase when the puck reaches center ice.

The Canucks need Hughes to develop into their true number one defenceman that will help lead them to the promised land, and through development comes some mistakes that Hughes will learn from.

I feel it’s worth mentioning to those worried about the expansion draft, if Hughes plays more than ten games this season, it will mean the Canucks will need to protect him at the Seattle expansion draft.
As per Daniel Wagner of the Vancouver Courier, Hughes could make his debut as early as March 13th thanks to a tough season for the University of Michigan men’s team.

That would mean 13 games would be remaining for the Canucks and assuming Hughes plays all 13, that would mean the Canucks would need to protect him at the expansion draft. This, however, is something Benning has said he is not worried about.

No matter when Hughes arrives, he will surely benefit from getting some experience in the NHL under his belt, and he will have the entire summer to prepare himself for his first NHL training camp next October where he will look to make the team.

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We have seen with Olli Juolevi that defencemen take longer to develop into NHL players, so it’s important fans don’t set their expectations too high or get discouraged when Hughes makes the odd mistake early on in his career.