The differences between Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers are immediately apparent.
There’s the obvious: Myers is the tallest player in Canucks history at a towering 6’8”. Myers' stick, at 66 inches long, is actually taller than the shortest player in Canucks history, the 5’5” Bobby Lalonde.
Meanwhile, Hughes is generously listed at 5’10”, meaning the two defencemen are nearly a foot apart in height, something quite clear when you see them standing together on the ice.
With that height difference comes certain expectations. Undersized defencemen are expected to play one way — fleet-footed offensive defencemen whose offence comes at the expense of their defensive game — while big defencemen traditionally come with expectations to be physical, defensive stalwarts.
Hughes and Myers don’t play completely against type. After all, Hughes is an offensive dynamo, with elite skating ability. He’s currently tied with Erik Karlsson (!) for seventh in scoring among NHL defencemen and is right behind Keith Yandle and Victor Hedman for third in power play points.
Defensively, however, Hughes has more than held his own. While his most effective defensive contribution has been keeping the puck primarily at the other end of the ice, he’s also been solid at in-zone defence when the puck is in the Canucks’ end of the ice. The stereotype of small defencemen struggling defensively just doesn’t hold true for Hughes.
Myers, meanwhile, is actually far more effective offensively than he is defensively and he’s not really known for his physical play. In fact, his game actually bears a similarity to that of Hughes.
The tall defenceman skates the way you would expect a much smaller player to skate, with quick pivots and high-end top speed. Certainly, Hughes has a leg up on Myers in that department, as he’s already one of the best skaters in the NHL, but when you watch the two skate, they do similar things: spinning off checks, jumping up in the rush, and darting into holes in defensive coverage in the offensive zone.
While Myers will throw occasional big hits, both he and Hughes depend more on their stick than their body to defend. Myers takes advantage of his reach to make sweeping poke checks, while Hughes uses a tighter gap and timing to knock pucks off sticks.
“You’re definitely going to hear a lot about the differences, just because we have such a big difference in height, but we have similar styles,” said Myers after Saturday’s game against the Sabres. “I think it provides a fast game. We both use our feet well.”
The two have been paired together now for five straight games and gotten good results, with their strongest performance coming on Saturday. Over the last five games, the Canucks have out-scored their opponents 7-to-1 with Hughes and Myers on the ice at 5-on-5, and out-shot them 51-to-30.
“I think for us, we're moving our feet together, we're staying close to each other, we're supporting each other really well, and it's making it easy for us to control the puck,” said Myers. “With the way Huggy skates, the way he handles the puck and spins off guys creates a lot of space for other guys on the team.”
The two seem to complement each other nicely, perhaps because of their similar styles. When they’ve been on the ice together at 5-on-5 this season, they’ve had a 59.84% shot share (corsi). Using MoneyPuck’s Expected Goals metric, the Hughes/Myers pairing ranks 11th in the NHL among pairings that have played at least 100 5-on-5 minutes together.
Much of that can be pinned on the influence of Hughes — his pairing with Tanev comes in at 18th in the NHL in the same metric — but there’s no denying the stylistic synergy between Hughes and Myers.
“Huggy is so elusive, provides so much room for guys on the ice,” said Myers. “It's really nice to see. As a young guy especially, he's doing that without creating too much risk and you don't see that very much with young guys.”
Hughes was quick to credit Myers as well, agreeing that there are similarities in the way the two defencemen play.
“He's just a really good player. He makes plays, he's smart. You see that goal,” said Hughes, referencing Myers’ shorthanded goal against the Sabres. “Yeah, that's a pretty skilled goal.”
It also helps that with the way they constantly push the puck up ice, they spend a lot less time defending in their own zone, where Myers has still had some struggles this season, despite being better than initially advertised. The two also play much less of a shutdown role than Myers did with Alex Edler — Hughes and Myers have started just 7 shifts in the defensive zone, compared to 22 in the offensive zone.
Perhaps that’s the ideal way to use Myers, putting him in a role where offence is the primary goal, constantly pushing the pace and attacking up ice to put the opposing team back on their heels. Instead of the typical pairing you see of a stay-at-home defenceman matched with an offensive defenceman, putting two defencemen together with similar skillsets might lead to better results.
By the end of the season, Hughes and Myers might have something else in common: a Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.
Myers won the Calder back in 2010 after an 11-goal, 48-point season in which he averaged nearly 24 minutes per game. While he’s never been able to recapture the magic of his rookie season, perhaps he could help Hughes to a Calder Trophy of his own.
Hughes sits third in rookie scoring behind Cale Makar and Victor Olofsson, but Hughes is just four points behind Makar. There’s reason to believe that Hughes could catch Makar, and already has a stronger two-way impact than the Avalanche rookie.
What’s remarkable is that Hughes could set some significant records for the Canucks in his rookie season.
The franchise record for most points by a rookie defenceman has stood since their inaugural season, when Dale Tallon tallied 56 points in 78 games. Currently, Hughes is on-pace for 67 points, which would shatter Tallon’s record.
More impressively, that would break the Canucks’ rookie record for points by any player, forward or defenceman. That record was set just last season, when Elias Pettersson surpassed Pavel Bure and Ivan Hlinka to put up 66 points in his rookie year.
67 points would land Hughes at fourth all-time among rookie defencemen, just ahead of Phil Housley, Ray Bourque, and Chris Chelios. That’s some heady company.
If Hughes can win the Calder, he’ll be just the 12th defenceman in NHL history to earn the honour since it was first awarded in 1937. That will also be true if Makar wins, of course, but if Hughes wins, it will also be the first time since 1968 that a team has had back-to-back Calder Trophy winners.
The last time that happened was when Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson won back-to-back rookie of the year awards with the Boston Bruins. That worked out pretty well for the Bruins: Orr and Sanderson won two Stanley Cups together in 1970 and 1972, though Orr obviously played a much bigger role in those Cup wins.
If the Canucks could be even half as successful, they would make a lot of their fans’ dreams come true.