The Vancouver Canucks struck gold on day one of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
They selected Quinn Hughes with the seventh overall pick that day and Canucks fans couldn’t be happier. The smooth-skating defenceman from the University of Michigan Wolverines was a highly touted prospect. Many expected him to go in the top five of the draft.
But the Canucks got lucky. Hughes fell into their laps as the Montreal Canadiens took Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick, the Arizona Coyotes took Barrett Hayton with the fifth overall pick and the Detroit Red Wings took Filip Zadina with the sixth overall pick. Zadina was projected by many to go in the top five or top six but Kotkaniemi and Hayton going high took people by surprise. (Montreal needed a centre, however) We’ll never forget that one lady’s reaction to the Kotkaniemi pick.
But enough about them, back to Hughes. Right when Hughes was drafted, there was that feeling he would be a key piece to the Canucks’ future.
Then-general manager Jim Benning couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I’m so excited for our fans right now,” said Benning after making the pick. ” I didn’t think he was going to be there, but I’m so happy that he was.”
Less than a year later, Hughes played his first NHL game near the end of the 2018-18 season and was the runner-up in the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year the following season. Cale Makar was the one that edged out Hughes.
Hughes’ remarkable 2022-23 season
Flash forward to this season and Hughes is one of the best defencemen in the NHL. You may disagree but it’s true. He is also having the best season of his career to date. Much like the new Fall Out Boy album to me, Hughes has been a breath of fresh air in a tough year for the Canucks.
In the Canucks last game against the St. Louis Blues, Hughes got two goals (including the late tying goal) and an assist in a 6-5 overtime loss. That was the second time in his career Hughes had a multi-goal game. The first was in his rookie season on February 1, 2020, in Long Island against the New York Islanders. He had the overtime winner in that game too.
Hughes has 72 points in 70 games and that is a franchise record. The previous record holder? Hughes himself as he got 68 points in 76 games last season. He’s a madman…a madman! Erik Karlsson is the only defenceman who has more points than Hughes this season and he has 91.
Here is a highlight package of Hughes in the game Tuesday night in St.Louis. This pretty much sums up Hughes’ season, (ignore the giveaway) his smooth skating makes him walk the blue line effortlessly and he has shown he can be an amazing playmaker from there. Hughes is also good at knocking the Blues players off the puck despite his size and is so calm and cool with zone entries and zone exits.
“Quinn Hughes was a monster,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet after the game per Daniel Wagner of Vancouver Is Awesome. “Very assertive in all facets of the game. I love his compete tonight, even when it was 5-2, you could tell, he had a gleam in his eye. He didn’t think we were out of it. Obviously, he was the main reason why we got back into it.”
Hughes was the baba yaga out there. He may be silent but on the ice, his play is deadly.
Hughes deserves Norris Trophy votes
The Norris Trophy goes out to the NHL’s best defenceman. No Canuck has ever won it. Well, Hughes makes the case to win it one day. However, he should at least be a nominee this season.
The reason why he probably won’t win the Norris is that Karlsson is having a phenomenal season and at this rate, is most likely to win it. Offensively, Karlsson is having the best season of his career. That is impressive because the San Jose Sharks are one of the worst teams in the league. Other potential nominees include Dougie Hamilton, Adam Fox, Rasmus Dahlin, and reigning winner Cale Makar. (But Makar has missed time due to injury so he probably won’t be one of the nominees.)
But that is my problem with the Norris Trophy. Voters from the PHWA take too much stock into points and not all-around play. I also believe there should be an award for the best defensive defenceman because the voters like to focus on offensive defenceman. I’m not saying the Norris winner should just be an offensive defenceman as Makar won it last year by being both great offensively and defensively. Players who would be nominated for a defensive defenceman award would probably be Jaccob Slavin, Chris Tanev and Mackenzie Weegar.
I’m also not saying Karlsson doesn’t deserve to win the Norris either. Let’s face it, no one expected this kind of season from him and he has been a great story. With the number of injuries Karlsson had in recent years, it looked like his prime was over. But it is nice to see him put up so many points again.
However, Karlsson has not been good defensively this season. He isn’t like his 2016-17 self (his peak form) when he practically carried the Ottawa Senators to one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Cody Severtson of Canucks Army compared Hughes and Karlsson’s 5 on 5 numbers.
I should also add that Karlsson is fourth in the NHL among defencemen who have played at least 400 minutes in expected goals against at 5 on 5 (68.75 this season) according to NaturalStatTrick. Hughes? 48th. (54.94)
Karlsson also leads all defencemen, again, who have played at least 400 minutes in goals against with 82. Hughes has been on the ice for 58 goals against at 5 on 5 and he is 32nd. Karlsson also has the most giveaways at 5 on 5 among defenceman who have played over 400 minutes with 79. Hughes has only given the puck away 30 times at 5 on 5 and he is 93rd in that category.
Hughes deserves more respect around the league. He is not a defensive liability. Hughes is a creative playmaking defenceman who keeps improving defensively. As Cody mentioned above, it is crazy that he is producing both great offensive and defensive 5 on 5 numbers considering how bad the Canucks goaltending and defence have been all season. No disrespect to Karlsson, but despite his great season, he isn’t helping the Sharks get wins. Much to the chagrin of team tank, Hughes is a huge reason why the Canucks aren’t lower in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.
Perhaps more people should watch Hughes’ games, especially those in the Eastern time zone. I get sleep is important but still.
“Anyone who says I’m a defensive liability, frankly, hasn’t watched the games,” said Hughes last week per Thomas Drance of The Athletic.
The Canucks never had a defenceman like Hughes and once his career is over, he’ll definitely be the best defenceman they ever had. He might not win the Norris Trophy this season but he should at least be considered for it. Perhaps, Hughes could win it one day. He is totally worthy of it.
Oh yeah, Hughes is a big fan of the pride nights and supports the LGBTQ+ community so that makes him even more likable