Q Hughes for trophy tracker 31324

To mark the three-quarter point of the 2023-24 regular season, NHL.com is running its third installment of the Trophy Tracker series. Today, we look at the race for the Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the top defenseman in the NHL as selected in a vote by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Quinn Hughes is a big reason why the Vancouver Canucks are not only a surprise team in the NHL this season but competing for the League's best record.

Hughes leads NHL defenseman in assists (63), points (76) and even-strength points (47), and is second in power-play points (30) and plus/minus (plus-36).

"Every year I feel like you grow and learn and each year presents some challenges, obviously this year has been a little bit easier than most," Hughes said Tuesday. "You try to bring your best every game but it's hard to do and I'm going to sound redundant, but when you finish your game, good or bad, you just have to turn the page and move on to the next one."

Named to the 2024 NHL All-Star Game, Hughes leads the Canucks in average ice time per game (24:45). He's helped Vancouver rank fourth in goals per game (3.54) and sixth in goals-against per game (2.69); last season, the Canucks were 13th in goals per game (3.29) and 25th in goals against per game (3.61).

"He's the best defenseman in the League, especially with the puck," Vancouver defenseman Carson Soucy said. "I think he loses his credit for his defense, and I think he's better than a lot of people say. He closes well, he's got a good stick, but then just the way he controls the puck, his confidence to keep it and maintain the possession is better than anyone. … You kind of see it when you play him like two times or four times a year, but then when you play with him, you see it every night. He just brings it every night and he's so talented, so skilled, such a good skater. For him to do that for 80 games, just every night, his confidence with the puck is amazing."

For those reasons and more, Hughes was selected by a panel of 14 NHL.com writers as the favorite to win the Norris Trophy voted as best defenseman in the NHL. He received 68 points, including 12 first-place votes. Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche was second with 52 points and the other two first-place votes. Noah Dobson of the New York Islanders was third (36 points).

Hughes recently ended an 18-game goal drought and enters Wednesday with a four-game point streak (one goal, five assists), which coincides with Vancouver's current four-game winning streak after it had lost six of seven.

"I just think it's hard to be there mentally for all 82 games," Hughes said after a 5-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. "You go through different stretches throughout the season. I'll be honest, I'm a pretty competitive person, you expect a lot out of yourself every game but sometimes it's not like that. The last couple of games I feel like I've got my energy … I feel good and I think a lot of guys feel good right now."

Hughes, who was named captain prior to the season, leads Vancouver in power-play ice time per game (3:56) and has helped the Canucks rank 11th on the power play this season (22.6).

"Everyone can see the exceptional level of skill that he plays with on the ice," Vancouver defenseman Ian Cole said. "On top of that elite level skill offensively, he defends well, he defends hard, he's smart on the ice. He puts himself in such a good position from his skating that he's tough to play against defensively as well, and that's why you see his plus-minus has been through the roof.

"And then off the ice, what people don't see as much, he's a fantastic leader, he's very mature. Yeah, he's still young (23) and still kind of coming into his own but a very mature great leader. He isn't necessarily super rah rah, but he doesn't need to be because when he does speak, everyone really respects what he has to say and respects his opinion. I think he's navigated this season as a young-ish captain in this League extremely well, and I can't say enough great things about him as a player and as a person."

Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1-basis): Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks, 68 points (12 first-place votes); Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche, 52 (two); Noah Dobson, New York Islanders, 36; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators, 25; Victor Hedman, 10; Evan Bouchard, 8; Drew Doughty, 6; Josh Morrissey, 3; Charlie McAvoy, 2

NHL.com independent correspondent Kevin Woodley contributed to this report