We’re all a little giddy after the Canucks somehow landed Quinn Hughes with the 7th overall pick in the NHL Draft back in June. Knowing full well Rasmus Dahlin wasn’t possible, Hughes was the second best option and for the first time in many years Canucks Nation was unified (ok, mostly) with a first-round pick and the likelihood he can help turn the franchise around sooner than later.
Whether Hughes signs a contract now or a year from now isn’t going to drastically change the Canucks on-ice product for the 2018/19 season. QH will no doubt impress like Brock Boeser did but on defense, it’s a bit more of a clusterschmuck and those same opportunities won’t be available for him on the back end.
The Canucks’ defense corps is crowded and Jim Benning hasn’t made it easy for younger players to advance. Michael Del Zotto was signed to a 2 year/$6 million deal which wasn’t terrible and has given the Canucks more speed on the back end but he’s hardly a catalyst for an improved offense, despite being second on the Canucks in defensive scoring. He’s a band-aid at best as this team transitions but a player like Ben Hutton is now in question after being pushed down the depth chart.
Speaking of Hutton, there has been a lot said about his future with the Canucks. The major question is “Where does he fit?” His six assists in 61 games last year was worrying if you believe he’s part of this team’s future. Hutton has been in the press box more than he would have liked this past year and coach Travis Green seems to have fallen out of favour with him, and no I’m not talking about Erik Gudbranson all of a sudden, unfortunately.
Ben saw the worst output of his young career in 2017/18 and may very well have played himself into a trade. Not sure how he isn’t given more of a chance like Jake Virtanen has up front but I suppose there is less movement on the backend and less room for error. The way Hutton has developed, maybe Quinn Hughes could make his debut this season.
Let’s say Hughes signs his entry-level deal this summer and can help the Canucks right away, can he really take a defensive group from third-worst in the NHL to even close to league average in shot percentage? I doubt it. Vancouver had a combined 2.83 SH% on defense last season, almost a full two points below the league average.
Hughes is going to be touted for his skating and maneuverability in the early stages and simply just getting the puck out of the defensive zone which will end up being a lot especially after losing the Sedins to retirement. He won’t get as many opportunities to shoot the puck as we all would hope and by the looks of those stats above, there aren’t many opportunities, to begin with.
So who would he be paired up with? The options aren’t pretty.
Vancouver shed itself of Luca Sbisa but doubled-down on colossal mistake Erik Gudbranson. Guddy is going to need a massive turnaround next season as well as staying healthy if he’s going to amount to anything on the Canucks. He isn’t a fan-favourite whatsoever and he seems to make his partners worse when they play together.
Three of the bottom five pairings last year on the Canucks involved Gudbranson when looking at CF% and as far as the aggression he was supposed to bring, it was almost non-existent. Gudbranson had 35 PIM last year and remembering any roughing, charging or even fighting majors is a stretch. Knowing how Green has deployed his defenders, we should all hope for a Tanev/Hughes or Edler/Hughes option. Everything else scares me.
On the money side, looking at where Hughes may fit in 2018/19 is muddy as well:
Troy Stecher will get signed in the next little while but other than that the defense looks set for the next season. Unless there is a trade or multiple trades, Hughes will be sandwiched in the bottom portion of the depth chart and with Benning’s commitment to Gudbranson and Michael Del Zotto, and that’s just talking about the guys on the big club, he may be fighting for minutes to start his career.
Of course, even early on, Hughes has shown in Development camp he may be the best skater for the Canucks defensemen and he hasn’t played a game yet. If he does make the team he’ll be given every chance to succeed but Green will still have to trot out Alex Edler and Chris Tanev with regular minutes, Stecher won’t see his status decline so it really only leaves three other spots in Gudbranson, MDZ and a combination of the rest.
In his rookie season, why subject Hughes to that mess when he can develop for another year eating up huge minutes in Michigan? The Canucks were patient with their other recent pick Elias Pettersson and it paid off in spades with a season for the ages by the young Swede. Brock Boeser also stayed back in North Dakota after his draft year and he too decimated his competition in college.
Defensemen are heavily criticized in the NHL and on this Canucks team, that is absolutely true. The Canucks won’t make the playoffs this season and will most likely sit at the bottom of the standings in a race for Quinn’s younger brother, Jack, as the consensus top pick in next year’s draft. Let the Canucks work out their issues for one more season and give Quinn Hughes a real chance to make a difference in 2019 after his college season is complete.
He wants to be a pro but gets that going back to college isn’t the worst for his development. Thatcher Demko hasn’t even made the Canucks yet and he is supposed to take the reigns in net any time now after showing he has the ability to backstop this team. Regardless of what both the Canucks and Hughes decide, Vancouver will once again have a disgusting showing on defense in 2018/19 and really, what’s one more year?
Photo – The Hockey Writers