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Hughes set to join Canucks, NHL debut uncertain

Defenseman prospect dealing with ankle injury

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Quinn Hughes will join the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, but when the defenseman prospect plays his first NHL game, and how many he'll play this season, is less certain.

The 19-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Canucks on Sunday, one day after completing his second season with the University of Michigan. But an ankle injury, sustained blocking a shot Friday, could delay the debut of the No. 7 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said Hughes will have a physical and CT scan on his ankle after he arrives. The results will determine the timeline of his first NHL game.

"His ankle, when I talked to him this morning, is still fairly swollen," Benning said. "Yesterday, he was still walking with a limp, so I don't necessarily know. If he's healthy and ready to play, then he'll play. But if not, then we're going to make sure we do the right thing for him and he won't play until he's 100 percent healthy."

Video: Canucks Sign Hughes to 3-Year Entry Level Contract

There is less uncertainty about what the Canucks expect from Hughes when he is ready. He led Michigan in scoring with 33 points (five goals, 28 assists) in 32 games after having 29 points (five goals, 24 assists) in 37 games as a freshman last season. He also played for the United States in the 2018 and 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships, winning a silver medal at Rogers Arena this year.

"He's a transitional offensive defenseman," Benning said. "We think he's an important piece to our team moving forward."

Benning cautioned there will be an adjustment period for Hughes (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) against bigger, stronger players in the NHL, but he said he believes Hughes can immediately help the Canucks' transition game and 29th-ranked power play (14.8 percent). 

"Obviously, he's a great skater, but I want him to get in here and get adjusted, get accustomed to the strength and speed of NHL players," Benning said. "His ability to get back and transition the puck up ice, beat that first forechecker, he can help us there. And even on the power play, his ability to walk the line and snap passes to either side or change the angle on shots and get them through, that's something he's very good and he can help us on our power play."

Benning wouldn't comment on the possibility of Hughes playing against the New York Rangers on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; ESPN+, SNP, MSG, NHL.TV). But with 13 games left in the regular season, delaying his debut might not be a bad idea. If Hughes appears in more than 10 games this season, he would have to be protected from Seattle in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. If he plays 10 games or fewer, he is exempt.

"I can assure you from an organizational standpoint we are going to look at that and do everything to safeguard ourselves from having that happen," Benning said. 

Vancouver (28-32-9) has one regulation win in its past 17 games (4-10-3) and is nine points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

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