Canucks: Can Quinn Hughes sustain his elite play?

VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 05: Quinn Hughes #43 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck during NHL action against the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena on November 5, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - NOVEMBER 05: Quinn Hughes #43 of the Vancouver Canucks skates with the puck during NHL action against the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena on November 5, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes is in the midst of a historic rookie campaign, but can he sustain his current level of play?

At 20 years of age, Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes has already established himself as one of the best blueliners in the NHL — during the midst of a historic rookie campaign.

Hughes flashed glimpses of brilliance during his brief five-game stint last season, but no one expected him to become a legitimate No. 1 defenceman so soon. However, great seasons can often be the result of good luck and inflated underlying metrics, so it’s time to dive deep into Hughes’ advanced stats to see if he can maintain his level of play.

One of the most telling offensive stats that could help determine whether or not the rookie can sustain his elite performance is IPP, or individual points percentage. This metric shows the percentage in which a player earned a point for every goal scored by his team when he was on the ice. For example, if Hughes was on the ice for five Canucks goals and earned a point on three of them, he would have an IPP of 60 percent. Players who have IPPs higher than their career and league average can expect some negative regression and vice versa.

Currently, Hughes owns an IPP of 41.4 percent, according to Bill Comeau, while the average number for defencemen in the league is about 30 percent. This might seem alarming at first, but we need to keep in mind that the rookie is no ordinary player.

The best way to gauge the sustainability of a skater’s performance is to compare their current season’s averages with their career average. Due to the fact that Hughes is a rookie, however, the only thing we can do is to compare his numbers with some of his peers.

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Hughes’ point per game average currently sits at 0.78, so it would make sense to look at the IPPs of other defencemen with a similar PPG.

There are seven other blueliners who have scored at a rate between 0.7-0.8 PPG, and the average of their IPP is 43.7 percent.

Even if you exclude Anthony DeAngelo and Erik Karlsson, who both own IPPs of over 50 percent, the average of the other five players is still 38.6 percent. These figures are right in line with Hughes’ own number, which means that he should be able to continue driving offence at an elite level.

Another way of gauging whether or not a player can maintain their play is by looking at their shooting percentage. Although this is often applied to forwards, it can still be a useful stat for defencemen as well.

Hughes currently has a shooting percentage of 6.3 percent, which is pretty standard for blueliners. On the other hand, he has scored more goals than expected, as Evolving-Hockey estimates his expected goals to be 6.37, which is less than the eight he’s potted this season. Luckily, this difference isn’t too large so there shouldn’t’ be much reason for concern.

Unfortunately, detractors might claim that his gaudy point totals is due to him playing on an elite offensive team, as the Canucks are eighth in the league goals for per game. It might be easy to assume that Hughes rides the coattails of stars such as Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, but that can’t be further from the truth. In fact, there’s ample evidence to suggest that Vancouver is potent offensively because of the rookie, not the other way around.

In the two graphs above, you can see that the Canucks are 12 percent better than league average in shot quality with Hughes on the ice as opposed to -5 percent without him. This 17 percent swing is tied for the largest positive impact on Vancouver’s offence along with Miller.

As a matter of fact, he’s the only defenceman on top 10 teams in goals per game average who has the biggest impact on their respective clubs’ offence for players who have played over half of their teams’ games. Hughes is arguably the main reason why the Canucks are so dangerous on the attack, which is incredible for a rookie.

By now, you’ve probably realized just how valuable Hughes is to Vancouver’s offence, but how is he in his own zone? Well, we can use the graphs provided by HockeyViz again to determine his defensive prowess, and the results incredible:

There is a 9 percent difference in shot quality against Vancouver when looking at Hughes’ on/off numbers. Much like his offensive stats, this is the biggest difference among all Canuck blueliners who have played over half of the club’s games.

Although Vancouver’s defence is still below average with him on the ice, this is more of a team weakness than any fault of the rookie’s. According to HockeyViz, the Canucks are fifth-worst in the league when it comes to shot quality against.

After viewing Hughes’ offensive and defensive games separately, we can now combine them and see how he impacts teammates by looking at his WOWY (with or without you) graph:

As the legend states, the numbers encased in red represents players without Hughes and the black ones indicate the opposite. Almost every single skater shifts towards the top right of the graph when they’re playing with the rookie, which means that they were able to get more shots on net while suppressing shots against.

In other words, most players managed to control play better with Hughes on the ice. More importantly, he was able to be a positive play driver even in the absence of certain teammates, as every number encased in blue shows him on the positive side of the graph.

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Overall, there aren’t any red flags in Hughes’ underlying metrics, so Canucks fans can expect him to continue playing at an elite level. The rookie is one of the most impactful players on the team and should only get better with age. With him and Petterson still in their early 20s, the future is certainly bright in Vancouver.