The Vancouver Canucks announced defenceman Quinn Hughes has been placed into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. The defenceman will miss the team’s three-game home stretch, as they’ll take on the Arizona Coyotes, New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Losing Hughes is a massive blow to the Canucks and their blue line. The 22-year-old has 34 points in 45 games this season, which is good for second on the team and the most among d-men. Outside of Hughes, the Cancuks haven’t received much production from their blue line. The remaining nine defencemen have 41 points combined.
With Hughes out of the lineup, three defencemen within the organization have an opportunity to step up and help the team pick up a few wins.
The Canucks brought in Oliver Ekman-Larsson in a trade with the Coyotes with the hope he’d provide the club with help on both ends. Most expected him to struggle defensively while producing at his usual rate. So far, the opposite has come true for Ekman-Larsson. He has scored three goals and posted nine points through 43 games while being one of the better defenders in the NHL.
His struggles on the offensive end are likely because he’s playing on the second pairing and taking on a more defensive approach to his game. He has been a stabilizer for Tyler Myers, who is having his best season as a Canuck. Additionally, Ekman-Larsson hasn’t been playing on the first power-play unit as much.
Ekman-Larsson will now be the team’s number one defenceman with Hughes out. He will likely play close to 24 minutes a game on the top pairing and the first power-play. This is Ekman-Larsson’s chance to regain some of his confidence on the offensive end and put up the points he usually does. The Swedish defenceman has 131 goals and 397 points in 812 career games. He has a cap hit of $7.260 million over the next six seasons and should be producing at a higher rate.
Ekman-Larsson’s d-partner Myers will also get an opportunity to step up in Hughes’ absence. In his third season with the club, he has posted 11 points, which is good for second on the team. Myers has yet to score a goal for the Canucks this season, and with Hughes out, there is no better time for him to net his first goal of the season. Throughout 13 years, he has averaged six goals a season.
Myers will play on the first defence pairing based on the team’s practice lines on Monday. He will play with his usual partner, Ekman-Larsson. Now is the time for Myers to post points as a Canuck, since the club will need him to step up.
Jack Rathbone made the Canucks out of training camp and played in nine games with the club before being sent to American Hockey League (AHL) to play in Abbotsford in order to regain his confidence. He’s played 15 games in Abbotsford but missed time due to a shoulder injury and caught COVID after making his return to the lineup in January.
Rathbone may not get a call up right away as Rick Dhaliwal reports the club wants him to play in the AHL due to the time he’s missed. Nonetheless, he’s played in the team’s past five games and has appeared in eight of the club’s last 10 games. He has posted three goals and 14 points through 15 games in the AHL after putting together a five-point performance on Monday. Rathbone is yet to play under new head coach Bruce Boudreau and is excited to get the opportunity to show off his ability at the NHL level once again.
“I’m really excited to hopefully get that opportunity to play for Bruce [Boudreau],” said Rathbone. “Obviously, what he’s preaching suits my game. I’m excited to get that opportunity and make that jump but I think there’s a lot of work to be done still.”
The 22-year-old would be a boost to the team even when Hughes returns. The Canucks need more offence from the blue line, and Rathbone can provide that.
Other Players Could See an Increase in Responsibility
Ekman-Larsson and Myers are players that should step up with Hughes out due to their high cap hit, while Rathbone should receive an opportunity to prove his worth to the club. Brad Hunt is another player who may see an increase in responsibility. Boudreau seems to trust the veteran defenceman as he has given him minutes on the power play.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.