Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes looks on during the NHL hockey team’s practice in Vancouver, on Tuesday, February 18, 2020. Bo Horvat needed to see less than two periods of Quinn Hughes to realize he was different. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes looks on during the NHL hockey team’s practice in Vancouver, on Tuesday, February 18, 2020. Bo Horvat needed to see less than two periods of Quinn Hughes to realize he was different. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

‘We’re lucky to have him’: Canucks rookie Hughes putting together banner season

Quinn Hughes logged north of 25 minutes nine times in 2019-20

Bo Horvat needed to see less than two periods of Quinn Hughes to realize he was different.

Playing in his first NHL game towards at the end of another lost Vancouver Canucks’ season last March, the then-19-year-old defenceman swung deep into the Los Angeles Kings’ zone and bounced a pass off the back of the net to himself in order to shake an opponent before deftly pivoting in front for a quick shot.

Moments later, Hughes had his first NHL point. And the Canucks had a blue-line talent not seen on the West Coast in a long time, if ever.

“We knew we had something special,” Horvat recalled recently. “We’re lucky to have him.”

Fast-forward less than 12 months and Hughes heads the list — along with Colorado Avalanche blue-liner Cale Makar — of presumptive nominees for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

The seventh pick at the 2018 draft has already set a franchise record for assists by a rookie defenceman with 45, while his 53 points are three off Vancouver’s all-time mark for a first-year blue-liner, and seven off the Canucks’ franchise-high for a rookie.

With 13 games left on the schedule, the points record for a defenceman (63) is also within reach.

“They mean a lot just because I don’t want to take it for granted,” Hughes said of the milestones. ”But at the same time like I don’t want to take my foot off the pedal.”

The native of Orlando, Fla., hasn’t shown any signs of that.

Players coming out of U.S. college — Hughes spent two years at the University of Michigan — often struggle towards the end of their first professional season as more games, travel, and tougher opposition take their toll.

ALSO READ: Uniform refresh includes heritage jersey for Vancouver Canucks’ 50th season

Not Hughes, who’s averaging nearly 22 minutes a night of ice time, including the 27:08 he played Sunday against Columbus.

He’s logged north of 25 minutes nine times in 2019-20, with four of those games coming since the middle of February.

“He could probably play three games in one day,” Canucks head coach Travis Green said. ”This part of the year can be a grind sometimes because you’re tired. Your body gets worn down. And a lot of that is, ‘Are you a natural skater?’

“From the outside looking in, you don’t understand sometimes how hard guys have to work to skate now, how they sprint for 30 seconds during a shift. The guys that are the natural skaters really benefit.”

Partnered with Hughes since training camp, Christopher Tanev has occupied a front-row seat for his teammate’s impressive debut, one often accented by an uncanny ability to create space seemingly out of nothing.

“He brings a lot of aspects that no one else in the league can,” said the veteran defenceman. “Very quick side to side. A lot of guys are fast in a straight line. It’s the guys that can get from two feet left to four feet right in a blink of an eye that are very dangerous. He uses his body and his edges tremendously.”

Horvat said there’s been plenty of times when he thought Hughes — who spent his formative hockey years in the Toronto area when his father was a member of the Maple Leafs’ front office before moving to Michigan with the family at age 15 — was in a heap of trouble only to watch him make one move and have the seas part.

“It seems like every shift you’re like, ‘Oh God,’” Horvat said with a grin. ”Then all of a sudden he’s four feet away from the guy.”

Apart from the skill, what stands out is the quiet confidence exuded by Hughes.

ALSO READ: Slumping Vancouver Canucks missing three key players at practice

He isn’t cocky. He just knows.

“Once in a while you’re gonna make a play that’s not the best,” Tanev said. ”He shakes it off. It doesn’t bug him … 99 per cent of the time he’s gonna make the right play.

“He seems to just roll with the punches.”

The older brother of 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes, Quinn Hughes said his cameo at the end of last season prepared him for the hype in a hockey market starving for a return to respectability.

“That helped just wrap my head around what to expect and have confidence in myself,” said Hughes, whose Canucks are in the middle of a fierce playoff race and looking to return to the post-season for the first time since 2014-15. ”I thought I was gonna have a good year, but at the same time, you never really know.

“I just went in there expecting anything.”

Canucks centre Elias Pettersson, last season’s Calder winner and one of three rookies to score 60 points with Vancouver, played against Hughes internationally before they became teammates.

“I didn’t think he would be (available) when we drafted,” Pettersson said. “I knew how hard it was to play against him.”

A lot of ink was spilled on Jack, a slick centre, ahead of the 2019 draft. It might have been difficult from some siblings, but not Quinn.

“All the attention (Jack) got, he deserved,” Hughes said. ”I was just a proud older brother.”

ALSO READ: Canucks players help celebrate Halloween with chocolate pumpkins at children’s hospice

Now it’s his turn to get the accolades.

The 20-year-old finished second in Calder voting to Makar, out with an upper-body injury since late last month, in mid-season voting, but is now six points clear of his nearest competition.

“I’m a competitive guy,” Hughes said when asked if he follows Makar’s highlights and statistics. ”I’d be lying if I say I didn’t. He’s a really fun player for me to watch.”

Fans and teammates in Vancouver feel the same way — and then some — about their own star rookie.

“You see what he can do and how agile is, how smart he is, how confident he is,” Tanev said. ”Everyone else on the team feeds off it.

“He’s a very special player.”

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Canucks

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from the beach in rescue attempt in Nanaimo

Animal dies in spite of efforts of marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

A crossover utility vehicle smashed through the front of a business on Bowen Road on Friday evening. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Vehicle smashes all the way into business on Nanaimo’s Bowen Road

No serious injuries reported after incident at Venue Financial Centres

RCMP say a woman turned herself in to police after hitting a pedestrian and fleeing the scene of the accident in downtown Nanaimo on Friday morning. (File photo)
Driver flees, then turns herself in after hitting pedestrian in downtown Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP say woman was struck in marked crosswalk after driver ran red light

Police in Nanaimo found multiple sites with tags they allege were made by three men arrested for mischief in Maffeo Sutton Park on Feb. 15. (Photo submitted)
Graffiti taggers caught in Nanaimo with paint on their hands

Three suspects arrested at Maffeo Sutton Park last week

Uplands Park Elementary School. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported at Uplands Park, McGirr, Dover Bay schools

Contact tracing completed by Island Health, says Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools

A crossover utility vehicle smashed through the front of a business on Bowen Road on Friday evening. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Vehicle smashes all the way into business on Nanaimo’s Bowen Road

No serious injuries reported after incident at Venue Financial Centres

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

Several BC Ferries sailings are cancelled Friday due to adverse weather. (Black Press Media File)
All B.C. Ferries sailings cancelled due to winds, adverse weather

Adverse weather causes cancellations across several BC Ferries routes

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing leads to stabbing in Nanaimo

Suspect arrested on Gabriola Island an hour after incident Wednesday, Feb. 24

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives to view the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Death threats mount against Dr. Bonnie Henry, sparking condemnation from Horgan, Dix

Henry has become a staple on televisions in homes across British Columbia since January 2020

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
Nanaimo-raised singer records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah closes out the movie

Most Read