There has never been a Vancouver Canucks defenceman with as much raw skill as Quinn Hughes.
When the Canucks called on the 19-year-old defenceman with the seventh pick at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, general manager Jim Benning could hardly contain his excitement, expressing how excited he was for the fans of his team just moments after he called Hughes' name at the draft podium.
Now we know why.
Hughes is nearly going stride for stride with Elias Pettersson's impact during his rookie season a year prior, and that's no easy feat.
The Canucks didn't know where they were going to get goals from the year after Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired, and Pettersson answered that question.
A question that hasn't been answered for even longer, however, was when were the Canucks going to get a defenceman who could get the puck up to their forwards, and really drive their offence? Well, so far, Hughes has been that guy.
Hughes leads not only the Canucks, but the entire National Hockey League in offensive zone possession. He's also eighth in the league in end-to-end rushes; and while these aren't the typical statistics you would see on a box score, they make a huge difference.
Thanks to these abilities, Hughes has completely revitalized the Canucks' power play, and has been a very welcome addition to the team's new-look defence corps. The much-improved blueline now features the likes of Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn, along with Hughes.
All three have played big roles this year, but without Hughes, there would likely be major question marks surrounding their power play, much like there would have been last year, had it not been for Pettersson. From the moment Hughes was added to the first power play unit this season, it immediately looked much more dangerous.
Opposing penalty kills had no idea what Hughes was going to do next, would he pass to Boeser or Pettersson, or would he use his skating abilities to turn on a dime and open up an entirely different passing lane? Hughes certainly makes the Canucks' power play more dynamic and unpredictable.
Playing with a veteran defenceman like Chris Tanev has been good for Hughes, but it's also been good for Tanev, who, with Hughes, has formed a very solid second defence pairing for the Canucks. According to Tanev, Hughes is the most skilled defence partner he's ever played with:
"He's definitely by far the most skilled partner I've played with. Just the way he can change direction and how good he is with the puck, any partners I've played with, no one's really been that skilled. He's a little bit smaller, and I think that helps him, he's able to slip through guys and change direction in the blink of an eye, and it's very impressive to watch."
Hughes' skating abilities and top-notch hockey IQ have drawn high praise since before he crossed the stage in Dallas, but an underrated aspect of his game is his shot. Not only can Hughes let go of a booming slapshot from the point, but he can get that slap shot off in the blink of an eye.
Hughes abilities were on full display Saturday night when the Canucks managed to come back from a late two goal deficit, picking up assists on both the tying goal, and the goal that brought his team within one late.
Although his point production has decreased from what it was in his first 10 games of the season, Hughes' coach and defence partner alike have been impressed with his defensive play -- something that Tanev believes Hughes isn't given enough credit for.
"He plays very good defence, he's very good obviously up the ice with the puck, and really good on the power play. He's a full 200 foot player and he's only going to get better as time goes on."
Hughes has been able to get the respect of everybody in the Canucks' dressing room, most of whom refer to him as "Huggy" or "Huggy bear". According to Canucks' captain Bo Horvat, both Hughes and Pettersson earned the respect of everyone in the room due to their off ice actions, just as much as their on-ice actions.
"If guys come in and work hard, and don't think they're bigger than the team, they're going to fit into our room really easily, and I think Quinn does that. He works hard every single day, and he's willing to learn and get better as a team. He's been really good so far and he's super easy to get along with. Hasn't lipped anybody off yet, so that's a positive too."
The captain's words are very similar to what many Canucks players said about Pettersson last year; quiet kid, works hard, and has a team first mentality. Seems like a recipe for success.
This is the first article published as part of The Botchford Project, sponsored by The Athletic. More info: Canucks.com/BotchfordProject