VANCOUVER — While Quinn Hughes is looking forward to his rookie season, the young Vancouver Canucks defenceman isn’t relishing his first assignment of the year — defending Oilers juggernaut Connor McDavid.
“I think you’ve got to be careful what you ask for,” Hughes said Tuesday. “He’s a really good player. I’m sure he’s going to be really good (on Wednesday) and we’re just going to have to defend against that.”
The 19-year-old blueliner got a taste the NHL at the end of last season, playing five games with the Canucks where he delighted fans with his speedy skating and uncanny play making.
Hughes knows, however, that playing a full 82 games will be a much different monster.
“I don’t think anyone has higher expectations for me than myself,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and succeed. So I’m just excited for (Wednesday). Going to take it one day at a time.”
Wednesday will see the Canucks kick off their season in Edmonton, icing a team that includes several faces who weren’t in the lineup at the same time last year.
Mid-season trades added forwards Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo to the lineup. Hughes joined the squad after wrapping his college hockey career at the University of Michigan. And Canucks general manager Jim Benning was busy over the summer, bringing forward J.T. Miller in from Tampa Bay on a swap for picks, then signing veteran defencemen Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn, and forward Micheal Ferland in free agency.
All of the roster juggling is expected to bring new depth to the Canucks while bolstering the skills of young stars like Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat.
“I feel like we have an older team, a team built to handle certain situations,” said coach Travis Green. “I feel like the maturity level of our group has gone up, not just with the guys we’ve signed, but with the younger guys coming into their own a little bit more.”
Vancouver finished last season 12th in the Western Conference with a 35-26-11 record, but the off-season additions and belief in the up-and-coming core have fans excitedly discussing playoff ambitions.
There’s similar talk in the locker room, too.
Locker Room Excitement
“We’re a super excited group. We have great hockey players and if everybody’s showing up and doing a good job, we’re going to be successful,” said goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Defenceman Chris Tanev is heading into his 10th season with the Canucks and said this is the best team he’s been part of “in a while.”
“We have high expectations in here,” he said. “We’re ready for the year and we’re going to put pressure on ourselves to have a really good year.”
Green fully expects his team to be better this year and isn’t shy about saying that their goal is securing a post-season berth.
“Where the organization is going is exciting,” he said. “This year for me is the start of something that you hope goes on for awhile. And I’ve said that. We don’t want to be a team that creeps into the playoffs and then isn’t there for a couple years. … You want to give yourself as many chances as you can.”
The Canucks will start the year on the road with visits to Edmonton and Calgary, but the team also has plans to celebrate the season with fans during the home opener on Oct. 9.
After going captain-less last year, the club will be handing out the ‘C’ at the first game in Vancouver, Green announced Tuesday.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into it. We don’t take it lightly,” he said. “We think it’s the right time for our organization and the right time for the person we’re going to name. We think it’s a special moment and something that our fans should be able to witness firsthand.”
Horvat, Tanev, Alex Edler and Brandon Sutter will rotate the assistant captain position through the first two games of the year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2019.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press