Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes was very bad in his own zone last season.
In fact, he was one of the worst defencemen in the entire NHL last season. He was constantly getting lost in his own end and struggled with the board battles. On the rush, he was constantly getting beat by the forwards coming down the wing. Going back to his draft year, (and even before that) size was an issue for him.
This season, however, he has improved. Despite his size, the defending from Hughes was been much better. Bruce Boudreau has even given him some penalty-killing duties.
“I’m tired of hearing I’m just an offensive defenceman,” said Hughes back in December.
In 80 minutes of penalty killing time this season, Hughes has done a fairly good job. According to NaturalStatTrick, there have been only six goals against on the penalty kill when Hughes was on the ice and there have been four shorthanded goals. Only two of the six goals given up were high danger ones.
On the power play, he looks as dangerous and has helped the Canucks man advantage leap into the top ten in the NHL with his effortless passing. According to an article by Shayna Goldman for Sportsnet, no other defenceman in the league moves the puck more on the power play than Hughes. The article states he leads the NHL with 201.5 pass attempts per 60 and his passes find a teammate about 92% of the time. So Hughes is among the NHL’s elite when it comes to blueliners on the power play.
At five-on-five, Hughes leads all Canucks defencemen in Corsi with 52.78%.
As linked above, in 56 games last season Hughes was second in the entire NHL with 64 goals against at even strength. Through 69 games this season, he is 108th in that category with 60 goals against at even strength. Safe to say that is an improvement.
Hughes isn’t letting opponents walk around easily this season. He also doesn’t pinch and is usually ready to help stop an odd-man rush. Hughes is better along the boards as he is winning the battles which was something he struggled with last season. Last year, it looked like Hughes was trying to do too much in the defensive zone and it looks like he decided to simplify his defensive game and it has worked.
Hughes was chasing the puck carrier a lot last season and this season, he is finding ways to force turnovers.
Despite being only 5’10”, Hughes managed to knock off Jack Eichel who is 6’2″ to get the overtime winner in the Canucks 5-4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
Of course, Hughes’ skating just got smoother every season. It’s always a treat to watch him skate at the blue line and also use his excellent stride to get around opponents.
He does a good job of it here against the Seattle Kraken. It just looks easy for him. The zone entries and zone exits have looked fantastic.
Hughes’ 58 points on the season are five points away from tying Doug Lidster’s record for most points by a Canucks defenceman in a single season with 63. Lidster set that record in the 1986-87 season. With seven games to go, there is a good chance that Hughes breaks Lidster’s record.
Hughes is also close to tying Dennis Kearns’ assists by a Canucks defenceman in a season. Kearns set that record in the 1976-77 season with 55 assists. Hughes currently has 52.
While Hughes is chasing franchise records and more importantly, helping the Canucks in their playoff push, his defensive game has really improved.
Of course, there is always room for growth as he is just 22-years-old. We already are seeing glimpses of how good a defenceman Hughes is and as he continues to grow, Canucks fans will see how special of a player he is.