Or is it “Huggie”? The spelling doesn’t matter, it’s the skating that matters. The Vancouver Canucks top defenceman Quinn Hughes finds himself comfortable in every situation.
“I think he’s got a lot of confidence and nothing really shakes him,” Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said Tuesday. “If he has a bad shift or a bad game he knows he’s gonna have a great game the next game, and I think to be a top notch player you have to have that kind of confidence in the league.”
The big picture goal this season for the 22-year-old left shot was to simply improve on the defensive end, but then with the Vancouver Canucks coaching change from Travis Green to Boudreau in early December, it meant adding the penalty kill.
“It means a ton, that’s something I wanted to do,” Hughes pointed out after practice on Tuesday. “It kind of just shows, it makes me want to do more and do the job even better for him because he’s given me those opportunities. I mean he’s given me the chance and it’s up to me to do the best I can do and I think I have been. Now I just have to keep going, final stretch here, play as good as I can.”
Adding the PK to his repertoire definitely hasn’t had any negative effect on the rest of his game. In fact with his confidence on the rise, his puck moving and break-out abilities are even more impressive. He’s spent much of the season since November paired with big rightie and two-time Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup champion Luke Schenn.
“He has the natural ability to skate the puck out, obviously he’s an unbelievable puck mover, so my job is … try to just get the puck to him, as much as possible” Schenn said with a smile on Tuesday. “There’s a time and a place where I’ve gotta get it going up the ice, but a lot of times he’s always in the right position, you give it to him, he makes the outlet passes, he skates it out of trouble.”
Hughes is second on the team in scoring with 44 points, 40 of those assists, and 21 of them on the power play. The Vancouver Canucks man advantage is hovering around a very respectable 21% on the season. The Vancouver PK is still catching up, dead last in the NHL at 70.2%.
Hughes wasn’t worried so much about personal numbers this season.
“I usually do have goals and I want to be up there with the best defenceman, but I think this year, with how last year went, (I was) just being motivated on having a good overall game, so I don’t think I really had any numbers or point totals, like that’s where I wanted to get to, I was just taking it ten games at a time,” he said.
Although plus-minus is considered an archaic statistic these days, it’s the one most pointed to when summing up Hughes’s 2020-’21 season: Minus-24.
“I think I’ve been a lot better,” Hughes said. “I thought last game I wasn’t great defensively, but besides that I think I’ve been really good defensively this year and I don’t know what I am, plus-9 or plus-10 or whatever, not that it matters, but there’s a couple things. I think we’re playing better as a team, I think “Schenner” has helped stabilize a bit as well, I think Demko has been unbelievable and bailed me out a couple times and I think I’ve worked hard at it and been stronger defensively. It’s multiple things.”
In this ‘what have you done for me lately’ world, Schenn also made reference to struggling a wee bit as a pair in the last two or three games. No better time than now to fix it.
“I still think we’ve got a long ways to go, can get a lot better,” Schenn said. “Our last few games I think we still have some work to do and like I said this is a big home stretch for the whole team and we’re all gonna have to be sharp.”
“We’ve got 25 games left, hopefully more, and we’ve gotta just try and play our best hockey and that’s all it is,” Hughes said.