Just one defenceman has ever won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer. The inimitable Bobby Orr did it twice in the 1969-70 and 1974-75 seasons, as he reinvented the position of defenceman with his freewheeling approach to the game.
Except, maybe Orr is more imitable than we thought.
No, there will never be another Bobby Orr but Quinn Hughes is currently reinventing how defencemen play along the offensive blue line. Along with a complete game that has the rest of the league waking up to how good he can be defensively, Hughes has become a whirling dervish in the offensive zone with his sharp changes of direction and darting plays down the boards.
With another two-point night — his seventh multi-point game of the season — Hughes took sole possession of first in the NHL in scoring with 30 points in 19 games.
That’s not first among defencemen. That’s first, period. Hughes has become not just one of the best defencemen in the league but one of the best players in the world.
Will it last until the end of the season to make Hughes the second defenceman in NHL history to win the Art Ross? The odds are against it and Hughes is doing his best to not even pay attention to the leaderboard.
“It’s obviously nice, but it’s going to be changing every couple of weeks,” said Hughes, adding later, “I can’t get caught being satisfied or happy. I think in the past, I was getting really satisfied and then you let your foot off the gas. I think I’ve been really good at sticking day-to-day and trying to attack each day.”
For Hughes, the individual accolades and achievements barely register. He’s well aware that he’s only been to the playoffs once in his career and his sole focus is on getting back to the postseason.
“I was second in the league for defencemen in points last year and it doesn’t really mean much at the end of the day,” he said. “I wanted to be in the playoffs and to be on a successful team.”
Honestly, that kind of talk just makes him sound more like Bobby Orr than ever. Orr never wanted to be the centre of attention and never seemed to care that much about the scoring titles, at least not his own.
During his third season, Orr once protested a second assist that he received in a game and argued that it should have gone to Phil Esposito, saying, “That might cost Phil $1,000,” which was the bonus for winning the Art Ross Trophy at the time. Not to worry: with Orr feeding him the puck, Esposito won the Art Ross race by 19 points.
In any case, no, Hughes isn’t the next Bobby Orr. But he is the first Quinn Hughes, and that’s just as good for Canucks fans. I had to keep picking my jaw up off the floor as I watched this Quinn Hughes. Er, I mean, I watched this game.
- It was a big night for the overlap in the Venn diagram of fans of the Canucks and the show “Suits,” as actor Meghan Markle was in Rogers Arena on Monday night. Her husband, Prince Harry, was also there, I guess.
- Prince Harry got to drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff then got an even bigger honour: a fistbump from Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet.
- “It was pretty cool,” said Tocchet. “I gave him a fistbump — I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that. I did it, though. He did it! He kind of looked at me but he did it.”
- The game got off to a slow start in the first period, with the Sharks getting the best chance on a shorthanded 2-on-1. William Eklund picked off a past and took off with Tomas Hertl and made a lovely deke around Thatcher Demko. Unfortunately for him, his accuracy was about the same as his namesake in the hockey insider world and he missed the mark. I guess that chance was not an e5.
- Honestly, if that chance goes in, we’re talking about a very different game right now. Probably Wingspan, that’s a pretty good game.
- I was pretty harsh on Noah Juulsen earlier today, so it’s only fair that I point out the positive aspects of his game against the Sharks. He threw a couple of big hits and made some savvy defensive plays, including stepping in neatly on Jacob Macdonald to divest him of the puck in the first period and swinging a pass to Sam Lafferty on the breakout. Solid game for him.
- It looked like the Sharks had opened the scoring in the second period when the superbly-named Fabian Zetterlund drove to the net and was stopped by Demko, only for Eklund to jam in the rebound. The Canucks quickly challenged the goal, however, and the officials agreed with their assessment that Zetterlund interfered with Demko on account of that he did.
- “Dylan [Crawford] and Greg [Houde], our video guys, are great,” said Tocchet. “I gotta give them credit, they put goalie interference and I went with them. I mean, I’m gonna go with them every time…I think when the guy dragged his leg a little, that was the selling point — I think, obviously, but I’m biased.”
- As play dragged on in the second period, it was beginning to look like no one was going to score. That’s when Quinn “Hart Candidate” Hughes took over. Nils Höglander made the smartest possible play and gave Hughes the puck and the captain darted wide around two high forwards, zipped down the left side, and caught Mackenzie Blackwood too deep in his net with a wicked shot just inside the far post.
- The goal was a near-carbon copy to one he scored against the Sharks last season, albeit with a little bit more panache this time around.
- “I know going into the game that I’m going to get one of those looks,” said Hughes. “I’m just thinking about where I’m going to put that and then, obviously, it’s mainly looking at the goalie and seeing what’s open, but I think getting my mind ready and knowing that I’m going to get a chance like that — what am I going to do with it?”
- Nils Höglander was having a great game until late in the second period when he lost his cool in a battle with Kevin Labanc. Höglander put his right leg behind Labanc’s left leg to kick out his skate and threw the Sharks forward to the ice, which is the textbook definition of a slewfoot. As much as I like Höglander and the edge he plays with, that’s a dangerous play and something that needs to be eradicated from the game.
- Some Canucks fans questioned the match penalty Höglander received but that’s a by-the-book call by the officials. A slewfoot is an automatic match penalty according to Rule 52. Höglander might also be in line for some supplementary discipline, though his case will be strengthened by the fact Labanc returned for the third period.
- The Canucks managed to shift the momentum back in their favour heading into the second intermission with a last-second shorthanded goal. Dakota Joshua picked off a pass on the penalty kill and forced the puck in deep, then Sam Lafferty won a puck battle on the forecheck, fed Teddy Blueger in front, then went to the net to finish off Blueger’s rebound with 0.6 seconds left on the clock.
- “It started with a great read by Dakota to break up the play in our zone,” said Lafferty. “Then he got the puck deep and not much time left, so you take a chance. Teddy made a nice play.”
- That goal proved crucial, as the Sharks got one back on the power play early in the third period. Calen Addison fired a point shot that appeared to hit Tyler Myers in the giblets, sending him doubling over in pain so that he was merely the height of an average man. Zetterlund, with no regard for Myers’ pain, slapped the puck through Myers’ legs and past Demko.
- The Canucks regained the two-goal lead off a fantastic play at the point by Filip Hronek, who evaded two Sharks forwards while walking the line like Johnny Cash, then slipped the puck through to Hughes like a club-goer slipping a fifty to the bouncer. Hughes sent a hard slap-pass into the slot that Brock Boeser tipped on goal, then J.T. Miller fought off Hertl to send the rebound home.
- Prince Harry really seemed to like his goal but Miller just scoffed when asked if he saw the Duke of Sussex’s reaction and laughingly signaled that question was the end of his media scrum: “That’s gotta be the closer.” Look, Miller is a proud American and America has a long tradition of not caring for British royalty.
- I said it once before but it bears repeating: so many of the special things Hughes does get overlooked because he makes them look so routine. I adored this play where he broke up a Sharks rush in the neutral zone then sent a rink-wide backhand saucer pass right onto the tape of an on-rushing Brock Boeser for a clean zone entry and a Miller chance. That pass shouldn’t look that casually easy.
- With two minutes remaining and the Sharks pressing with their net empty, J.T. Miller threw himself in front of a puck for a huge block that sent the puck ricocheting out into the neutral zone. Let’s keep in mind that Miller is currently tied for second in the NHL in scoring right now and appreciate that most players that high in the scoring race are not throwing their bodies in front of heavy shots with a two-goal lead.
- “I don’t want to dive too far into this because it was just a shot block,” said Miller, “but it shouldn’t matter [what the situation is]. It’s a mindset thing for the team: you’ve got to want to get in the way of the puck. I missed one on the penalty kill and it was kind of a goofy goal off Mysie but if I block that one it probably doesn’t end up in the back of the net. There’s a very fine line there about being in the shot lanes. We had a couple of big, big ones: Phil [Di Giuseppe] had an awesome one in the third period too.”