Imagine a world where a team could bring up a very promising rookie, one that was worth a top-ten pick, and play him on the third pairing, shelter him as far as zone-starts and the competition he sees, and let him hang loose on the power play where his generational skill can really shine. Imagine getting 11 points out of him in his first fourteen games, as his mistakes don’t kill you because they come against third and fourth lines.
That world exists, people. It’s just in Vancouver and not in Chicago.
Whereas Adam Boqvist essentially was tossed into the deep end full of ornery badgers (and they tend to get that way when you toss them into a pool where they don’t belong) due to his organization’s incompetence, the Canucks have allowed Quinn Hughes to land softly in the NHL and already showcase what the Canucks think will be a franchise-turning skill-set on the blue line. Oh for a different way.
Hughes has started his NHL career skating with steady-as-a-rock vet Chris Tanev in a third-pairing role. Tanev is still capable of much more, but is also the perfect centerfielder for the freelancing Hughes. As the Canucks didn’t have too many aspirations when the season started (that could be changing), they can keep Tanev in a more reserved role to develop a future star. It also helps having Edler, Myers, Benn, and Stetcher who are, at worst, representative NHL d-men. Tanev and Hughes have started 63% of their shifts in the offensive zone, keeping Hughes where he is best and letting him learn the defensive side of the game at a slower pace.
And it’s actually Tanev who has been lost without Hughes, as he has sported a sub-40% Corsi in the 40 or so minutes on the season he’s played with someone else. So clearly, Hughes is special.
And he’s shown that on the power play, where he already has eight points and one of his two goals. The top unit is being QB’d by Hughes with Pettersson, Boeser, Miller, and Horvat as the four forwards, which can be a scary one for a long time. You can see where this thing would become self-aware like the Sharks one did a couple years ago, with talented players playing together on it for season upon season until they just knew where each other was.
If you want hope for Boqvist through Hughes, keep in mind they’re just about the same size. Hughes is listed at 5-10 and 170, which is generous to the hilt. And as the years roll on, the Canucks will expect him to displace Alex Edler on the top pairing. But they don’t need him to now, as things are going well and expectations within the organization–except for ownership which is kind of a problem–are tempered.
The future looks bright in Vancouver, if they can keep owner Aquilini out of hockey side of the business too much. Something they’ve failed to do for a while now. Acquilini has never given in on doing a full rebuild, trying to do half of one while also trying to compete for playoff spots, which has handcuffed the Canucks for half a decade now. It’s why they have some unconscionable contracts on their books to the likes of Eriksson, Sutter, Roussel, and now Myers while actually producing a promising young core of Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes. It feels like it could keep them from going in any direction.
Still, within the next two seasons they could probably free themselves up from Tanev, Edler, Eriksson, Pearson, and Sutter’s revival might make him marketable as well. Then the Canucks would really have room to boost their future. A future in which Hughes looks like he’ll be driving.