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Quinn Hughes is quietly on pace for a Canucks franchise record

Hughes is currently tied for 8th among NHL defensemen in points.
Quinn Hughes is on pace for the best season ever by a Vancouver Canucks defenceman.

The Vancouver Canucks have never really had an elite number one defenceman.

They’ve certainly had plenty of good defencemen over the years, like Paul Reinhart, Jyrki Lumme, Ed Jovanovski, and Matthias Ohlund, but none of them were truly elite with the Canucks. Even in the 2010-11 season, the best season in franchise history, the strength of the Canucks’ blue line was in their balance, with Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler excelling in offensive situations while Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa played the shutdown role.

Now, however, the Canucks have Quinn Hughes, who has the potential to be the team’s greatest defenceman of all time.

Hughes is currently second on the Canucks in scoring behind J.T. Miller and is tied for 8th in scoring among NHL defencemen with 31 points in 38 games. That puts him on pace for 66 points this season, which would break a longstanding franchise record for most points in a single season by a Canucks defenceman.

That record is held by Doug Lidster, who put up 63 points in 80 games with the Canucks in the 1986-87 season. That broke a record set by Dennis Kearns a decade earlier, when he had 60 points in 80 games.

Lidster’s record has now held for 35 years. Reinhart might’ve broken it a couple of years later but he couldn’t stay healthy and stalled out at 57 points in both of his seasons with the Canucks. Lumme topped out at 55 points in 1994. 

The only Canucks defenceman to get more than 50 points since Lumme is Hughes himself, who had 53 points in 68 games in his rookie season.

That season was cut short by COVID-19, preventing Hughes from taking a run at Lidster’s record. He was on pace for 63 points that season, enough to match Lidster. 

That’s not the only record Hughes might have matched or broken that season. He was the first rookie defenceman in 27 years to hit 50 points and was easily going to break Dale Tallon’s franchise record of 56 points by a rookie defenceman and could have surpassed Nicklas Lidstrom’s 60-point season to be the highest-scoring rookie defenceman in the modern era.

Hughes might have even passed Elias Pettersson’s 66 points for most ever by a Canucks rookie.

While Hughes might have been robbed of setting some rookie records, it seems certain he’ll pass Lidster’s record at some point. Could it be this season?

There’s good reason to believe that Hughes can not only maintain his current scoring pace but pick it up in the back half of the season. Right now, the Canucks have a shooting percentage of 7.41% when Hughes is on the ice at 5-on-5, which is a little bit below average and definitely below Hughes’s career average.

Considering some of the struggles the Canucks’ forwards have experienced with finishing at 5-on-5 — I’m looking at you, Pettersson — it’s entirely likely that Hughes could pick up a few more points at 5-on-5 in the second half of the season with a little more shooting luck.

On the other hand, Hughes is scoring at a higher rate on the power play than in his previous two seasons, which is interesting given that the Canucks’ power play has been very average this season.

Hughes is averaging 6.2 points per 60 minutes on the power play, which is 14th among NHL defencemen with at least 50 minutes on the man advantage. That’s higher than his previous two seasons at 5.86 and 5.61 points per 60 minutes. He could potentially be due for a little regression on the power play but this could also just be the natural progression of an elite power play quarterback in his third season in the NHL.

The most impressive part about Hughes’ offensive production is that it hasn’t come at the expense of his defence, which has taken tremendous strides this season. 

Hughes currently leads the Canucks defence with the lowest rate of shot attempts and shots on goal against at 5-on-5, both of which are easily the lowest of his young career. 

Under Bruce Boudreau, Hughes has added penalty killing to his repertoire, and he’s been remarkably effective in an admittedly small sample, with the lowest rate of shots and goals against among Canucks defencemen on the penalty kill.

The only thing that could potentially derail his season and prevent him from beating Lidster’s record is missing games. The Canucks have seen multiple players go into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol this season but Hughes has been spared thus far. He’s also managed to avoid injuries, only missing one game. 

If his health holds, the Canucks should have a new franchise record this season.