Canucks’ Hughes Has Successful Debut

The Vancouver Canucks are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they clearly won’t make it this season. Even after their 3-2 shootout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday evening, the team’s record is still only 33-35-10. And they would have to win all their remaining games and the Colorado Avalanche would have to lose all their remaining games in regulation for the Canucks to gain the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

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Still, the team has had a much better season than hockey forecasters might have predicted. And, with the remaining games left in the season, the best thing about being a Canucks fan might be getting to watch potential young star Quinn Hughes suit up for the team. Fans learned lots in Hughes debut game against the Kings.

A Review of Hughes’ Debut

Hughes made his debut for the Canucks on Thursday night, and it was a rousing success. He had a great assist on a Brock Boeser goal (actually it was a great shot on goal, and Boeser smashed in the rebound) and made confident, strong offensive plays all game long. He was on the ice for more than 15 minutes, had two shots, and generally looked like he belonged.

Quinn Hughes
Quinn Hughes (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

The best shift of the night, and the one that offers Canucks fans a glimpse of future moments of joy, came during the overtime period, where Hughes, Boeser, and star rookie Elias Pettersson were on the ice at the same time. They were (almost) unstoppable; the Kings players barely touched the puck; and, only being robbed by veteran goalie Jonathan Quick stopped them from winning the game right then. The crowd needed to wait for former King Tanner Pearson’s shootout goal for the victory.

Three Young Canuck Stars

How good were these three young Canuck stars? First-year goalie Thatcher Demko, himself an important piece of the Canucks’ future, said how fun it was “to be a part of that (Hughes’ debut) and witness that and even more special that I was able to play the game.” By the way, he made 37 saves and stopped all four attempts during the shootout for the win.

Playing all his youngsters together might suggest that coach Travis Green himself is a fan of the game. He probably couldn’t help himself: Pettersson and Boeser up front, Hughes on the rear guard, and Demko in the net. That’s the team’s future. The upcoming NHL Draft will be interesting for Canucks fans. There’s more coming.

Vancouver Canucks' goalie Thatcher Demko
Vancouver Canucks’ goalie Thatcher Demko (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Demko noted about the overtime shift with the new Canucks’ three young amigos, “That was fun to watch.” He added, “I felt like a spectator for a second. Just watching those guys move the puck and make those reads off of each other was really special. Really talented guys, and they were showing it.”

Related: Is Demko Here to Stay With the Canucks?

Boeser said of the goal he scored off the Hughes-created rebound, “I was in front of the net when I saw him bank it and I thought: Wow, that was pretty sweet. It was an awesome play. He’s obviously an elite player.” His final comment, “I heard his skating was really good, but it’s really amazing how good of a skater he is and how well he sees the ice.”

Hughes Played Like He Belonged

Hughes was the seventh-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, but his Canucks’ debut had been slow in coming because he sustained an ankle bruise during the Big Ten Playoffs that had sidelined him. However, after he was cleared to play, the fast-skating rookie from the University of Michigan arrived. His arrival was not a disappointment.

Quinn Hughes
Quinn Hughes of the University of Michigan. (University of Michigan Photography)

Furthermore, given that the Canucks defense is currently banged up, with Ben Hutton limping and Chris Tanev out for the remainder of the season, it looks as if the Canucks’ newest young hope will see lots of time on the defense these final games. That can only help the 19-year-old defenseman gain more experience before next season starts.

The word on Hughes was that he was a speedy, puck-moving defenseman who could lead the rush or make strong breakout passes. At the University of Michigan, he grew to become one of the best prospects in college hockey. He signed with the Canucks after the Wolverines were eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament. In 32 college games this season, he had five goals and 33 points. In 27 games the prior season, he had five goals and 29 points.

One good thing about Hughes’ delay in playing his first game is that the Canucks don’t have to worry about protecting him in the Seattle Expansion Draft in 2021. Had he played in 11 games he would have needed protecting, something the Canucks would have never risked.

What’s Next?

The Canucks have four games left this season. With so little hope for the playoffs, watching Hughes fit in with his new teammates will give fans a reason to watch these games. Hughes looked completely at home. As Sportsnet writer Iain MacIntyre suggests, “He is ready for this. So are the Canucks. Pity they have only four games left.”

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Hughes weighed in on his own play saying, “From Game 1 to Game 2, I’ll be better. Game 2 to Game 3, I’ll be better. I’ll just try to keep building.” When asked if he slept well before the game, Hughes said, “Yes” because he is confident in his game. He also noted that, like any kid, he did “dream about winning Stanley Cups.”

Sweet dreams, too, for Canucks fans.