When Quinn Hughes has the puck, you can’t help but sit up and take notice. Every rush up the ice has the potential to turn into something special, as he speeds away from forecheckers, evades opponents through the neutral zone, and looks to create scoring chances in the offensive zone. It’s thrilling.
Chris Tanev, on the other hand, doesn’t evoke the same excitement. It’s not just that Tanev is a known quantity in Vancouver compared to the new hotness that is Hughes, but also that he doesn’t play a particularly exciting brand of hockey.
Tanev is certainly valuable — he’s fantastic defensively and poised with the puck on breakouts — but it’s hard to stand up and cheer for a solid defensive play and an outlet pass. He’s good for just a couple goals and a handful of assists per season, which is completely fine, as that isn’t his game. It just doesn’t create a lot of excitement.
There is, however, one person that is excited about Chris Tanev: Quinn Hughes.
Hughes is a quiet guy, but when asked about being partnered with Tanev, he couldn’t stop gushing. The two defencemen have been partnered together for a couple preseason games and it seems very likely they’ll start the season together. Hughes approves.
“[Tanev] makes it really easy for me, he's a really good player,” said Hughes. “I didn't realize how good of a skater he was. No, seriously...I don't think I've really ever played with a guy that's that good of a skater. He can beat guys with his feet and he's smart and he's skilled.
“This was only our second game together and I'm sure by game 35 we'll be really, really, really good and hard to deal with.”
Tanev has seemed like a natural fit to partner with Hughes. It makes all sorts of sense: as a veteran defensive defenceman, he can cover for some of the rookie’s riskier forays up ice. Hughes, however, believes that Tanev has a lot to offer beyond his vaunted defensive ability.
“He’s a stay-at-home guy, but he has creativity and he can make plays,” he said. “The stuff that he can do in the [offensive] zone and the stuff that I do, just working off each other, I think you’re going to see that creep into his game too.”
It’s an intriguing idea. Tanev has never provided anything in the way of offence in his NHL career, but he’s been an elite shutdown defenceman, facing the best the opponents have to offer while starting his shifts primarily in the defensive zone. In fact, over the past three seasons, Tanev has started a higher rate of 5-on-5 shifts in the defensive zone than any other NHL defenceman.
Playing with Hughes, however, would place Tanev in an unfamiliar role: on a pairing expected to provide offence. The Canucks are unlikely to hand Hughes the same usage that Tanev has faced in his career, which might mean fewer shifts against first lines and more offensive zone starts for Tanev. Perhaps playing more with the puck in the offensive zone will decrease the likelihood of injuries for Tanev to boot.
Will a shift in usage result in more offence from Tanev? It seems unlikely, but a partnership with Hughes might just make it possible. When asked if he thinks he can draw more out of Tanev offensively, Hughes didn’t hesitate.
“I definitely think I can,” he said. “That’s what I think I can do here, is create more offence for all the guys and there’s going to be stuff he can do for me too. I think it works both ways.”
In fact, Hughes thinks the best is yet to come for Tanev.
“I’ve definitely seen how underrated he was,” said Hughes. “I think everyone here knows, including the management, how valuable he is. He was injured a little bit last year, and I think people haven’t really been able to see how good he is yet.
“I think he’s going to have a really good year and everyone’s going to see.”
Is that just the over-exuberance of youth? Perhaps not. Canucks head coach Travis Green seems to see some potential for more offence out of Tanev if he’s paired with Hughes.
“Tanny’s a real smart player,” said Green. “He’s got great hockey sense and he’s a guy that can read off a player like Quinn not just defensively, but offensively.”
That said, he was also hesitant to praise the pairing of Hughes and Tanev too much just yet, saying, “I like it on paper.” How long they last together as a pairing might have less to do with how they play together than how the pairing of Alex Edler and Tyler Myers performs in a matchup role.
What’s clear, however, is that Hughes is brimming with confidence, seeing his role as extracting more offence out of every player in the lineup. That includes extracting water from the stone that is Tanev.
If all goes well, however, it will be a mutually-beneficial partnership, with Tanev’s defensive ability and smart passing putting the puck in Hughes’ hands more often. At the very least, that should lead to a few more secondary assists this season.