When the playoffs began against the Minnesota Wild at the beginning of August, there were some concerns about how Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson would handle the extra pressure. Fast forward two weeks and they both have shown maturity beyond their years helping the Vancouver Canucks to a 2-0 series lead against the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
The Canucks are in good shape against the Blues because of their quick adjustment to the playoffs and continued development overall. Hughes looks like a seasoned vet on the blueline, not a baby faced 20-year-old and if you didn’t know any better, you would think that Pettersson was 25 already, not just 21. Both have helped drive the team to some unprecedented success in the postseason, and they still haven’t hit their peak in the NHL yet. That’s some exciting stuff, as we get ready to see what else they have in store as the playoffs continue.
Hughes Is Driving the Canucks Attack…Again
Hughes has been driving the attack for the Canucks all season long, and it has continued in the playoffs. Even with the added pressure, he has excelled with eight points in his first six postseason games. If that doesn’t sound impressive enough, that type of production by a rookie defenceman has not happened since Ray Bourque did it at the beginning of the 80s. Think about that for a second, no first-year defenceman has produced that much in the postseason for nearly 20 years. Oh yes, he has a five-game point streak as well. If that’s not the definition of impressive, I don’t know what is.
Hughes has become an elite defenceman, and he’s only just beginning his NHL journey. In fact, he probably is a top-five talent already, and that’s not an exaggeration either. His skating, hockey IQ, and ability to control the pace of a game is beyond sublime, so it’s no wonder that his head coach has given him the keys to the city in his first season. Not only that, but he has the trust and admiration of his teammates as well.
He’s a smart player who’s very humble and wants to get better…It’s fun to have him on the team in his first year and for him to get his first playoff taste. It’s only going to get better.Alex Edler on Quinn Hughes’ development
Hughes isn’t being sheltered as a rookie either, as Travis Green uses him and Chris Tanev as a match up pairing too, and why not? He controls the play 90 percent of the time and he rarely makes a bad pass out of his own zone. In fact, he only missed one pass in the offensive zone in Game 2 on Friday night, and one of them was a ridiculous bank pass to set up Horvat for the game-winner in overtime. Talk about coming through in the clutch.
Pettersson Is Playing a Complete Game
We all know Pettersson can score and pass the puck, but in Game 2 against the Blues, he showed us yet another skill he had tucked away in his arsenal, the skill of shot-blocking. In overtime and with the net seemingly open for David Perron to bury the game-winner, he slid across in desperation and blocked his backhand attempt. If not for that play, we would not be talking about a Canucks win right now.
With all the offensive tools Pettersson has, he is quietly becoming an excellent two-way player as well. He doesn’t just hang out at the blue line waiting for a breakaway pass. He backchecks and even comes up with a clutch block or quick clear when needed as well. His adjustment to playoff hockey has come about very quickly, as he’s fought through adversity and tight-checking to produce seven points in six games so far. Granted most of them have come on the power play, but the key thing is that he’s producing at the biggest time of the season.
It’s not a stretch to say that he could be a Selke Trophy winner sometime in his career as he’s already shown the propensity to play a complete game. You have to only go back to Friday’s game where he bunted in a goal on the power play, threaded a perfect Henrik Sedin saucer pass to Tanner Pearson, and made a clutch block in overtime to keep the Canucks’ in the hunt for a 2-0 series lead. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a Selke performance to me.
Future Is Bright in Vancouver
Hughes and Pettersson have helped transition the Canucks from a rebuilding team to a dark horse contender in the playoffs. They have both shown leadership and maturity beyond their years and just continue to impress each and every night. Pettersson has struggled to produce five on five against the Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly, but with the Canucks getting last change in the next couple of games, maybe he will be permitted more room. Regardless, he’s adjusted a lot faster to postseason hockey than was expected at his young age.
As for Hughes, he just continues to get better every game. After the adjustment period of Game 1 in the qualifying round, he’s looked dominant and near unstoppable at times. He’s playing top pairing minutes for Green and is one of the reasons the Canucks are in the playoffs right now. Like I’ve said many times before, he’s revolutionized the defence core and he’s only getting better. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fight for the Norris Trophy with Cale Makar each and every season when they are both in their prime.
The simple fact of the matter is, the Canucks have turned a major corner in their rebuild all because of the maturity of two of their youngest stars. Pettersson and Hughes have risen to the occasion in the playoffs, and have made it possible to believe that this team could be destined for greatness. After all, it’s 2020 stranger things have happened, right?
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.