Quinn Hughes’ first game with the Canucks couldn’t have gone much better. The anticipation was built up by the delay to his debut thanks to an ankle injury and, to a certain extent, it was improved by the Canucks being completely out of the playoff picture. Instead of worrying about the outcome of the game, fans could focus on Hughes and really appreciate what the 19-year-old defenceman brought to the table.
He brought a lot.
In a little over 15 minutes of ice time, Hughes put on a show, gliding around the ice with deceptive ease and immediately looking right at home among other NHL players. Or, at the very least, among Canucks and Kings.
Hughes finished the game with a +14 corsi and a +7 chance differential at 5-on-5, along with a ludicrous assist and a masterful performance in the 3-on-3 overtime. It was a clear illustration of exactly why he’s been so highly touted. The most encouraging part was that his game so easily transitioned from the college ranks to the NHL. He was unphased by the speed and physicality of the NHL game and played the same way as he did before signing with the Canucks.
On Thursday, Hughes played 22 shifts. Let’s look at each one of those shifts.
1 | 17:59 - 17:31
The crowd cheered as Hughes stepped onto the ice for his first shift after a Ben Hutton wrist shot was frozen by Jonathan Quick for a faceoff.
The Kings won the faceoff and Hughes faced his first test in the NHL: defending an odd-man rush. Hughes tracked back nicely, staying with Michael Amadio and lifting his stick to prevent him from receiving a pass. Then Hughes provided an early answer to the questions about his size, getting body position on the 6’1”, 204 lb Amadio and using that leverage to prevent him from getting anywhere near the puck.
Hughes then made a smart read, chipping the puck past a forechecking Jonny Brodzinski to Adam Gaudette for the breakout. If Hughes had gone with the more typical pass to his defence partner, Luke Schenn, Brodzinski was in good position to intercept. Instead, the Canucks broke out cleanly with possession. Moments later, Gaudette got a great scoring chance off a turnover as a result of the Canucks forecheck, but it never happens without that smooth zone exit facilitated by Hughes.
It wasn’t just what he did, however, it’s the ease with which he did it. Look at the little spin above to evade Brodzinski after dishing the puck to Gaudette. It all looks effortless, and it was just his first shift.
2 | 15:17 - 14:42
Hughes jumped on the ice for his second shift and immediately bolted towards Trevor Lewis to pressure him at the blue line. He couldn’t get the puck free, but smoothly transitioned to defending Jeff Carter on the rush.
Hughes angled Carter behind the net with good gap control, then smartly passed Carter off to Jake Virtanen and moved to check Kurtis MacDermid at the exact moment Carter dropped the puck to him. It’s a great read that disrupts the cycle, even if the Kings get the puck to the front of the net a moment later.
Beagle cleared the puck from the front of the net and moved it to Tim Schaller on the breakout, and he fed it ahead to Virtanen, who circled behind the Kings net and got a backhand shot on the wraparound. Virtanen got his own rebound and set up Alex Biega for a shot from the point.
When Biega’s shot was deflected wide, Hughes jumped down the boards and protected the puck from Lewis, allowing it to go back to Virtanen, covering for Hughes at the point. While his long shot didn’t trouble Quick, it did give the Canucks another offensive zone faceoff.
3 | 12:51 - 12:14
Hughes doesn’t have much to do on this shift, but still has an impact. He plays a Kings breakout conservatively, backing out into the neutral zone, so is in good position to be first back on an Adrian Kempe dump in and take a hit from Carl Grundstrom to play the puck to Schenn.
Hughes went off for a change as the Canucks got the puck in deep, but Schenn had a few words for Grundstrom after the hit, further endearing him to the Canucks’ faithful.
4 | 9:25 - 8:30
After a Kings’ icing by Sean Walker, Hughes came on for an offensive zone faceoff. Bo Horvat’s faceoff win came back to Hughes at the point and he played a short pass to Virtanen down the boards. After some possession down low, the Canucks lost the puck to the Kings, who flipped it down the ice. Schenn was first back to the puck and moved it to Hughes, who tried to play a quick stretch pass up to Tanner Pearson as the Kings changed, but Pearson missed the pass and it went the length of the ice for icing.
That led to one of just two defensive zone faceoffs for which Hughes was on the ice, but he ended up not involved in the subsequent play. While Schenn couldn’t move the puck out after Horvat won the faceoff, Virtanen blocked a shot at the point and skated the puck out of the Canucks’ zone before sending Horvat into the Kings’ zone in transition.
5 | 6:11 - 5:59
Not long after the Kings opened the scoring, Hughes came out for his only other defensive zone faceoff, and only defensive zone shift start, of the game. His play was a little scrambly, which might explain why he didn’t get another defensive zone start for the rest of the game.
Hughes ended up on the wrong side of Kyle Clifford when Thatcher Demko sent a rebound out in his direction. Hughes chased Clifford and the puck to the boards and got his stick on the puck, but Clifford was still able to send the puck to Carter in front. Schenn blocked the shot, but Beagle was forced to take a hooking penalty on Lewis as he drove to the net for the loose puck.
It wasn’t egregiously bad on Hughes’ part, by any means, but it was one of only a couple occasions during the game that Hughes misread the play. Given some more time in the NHL, his reads in those situations should improve significantly.
6 | 3:33 - 3:02
After pressuring the puck in the offensive zone, Hughes backed out and eventually ended up playing the puck back and forth with Schenn
Suddenly, Hughes turned on the afterburners, driving around Brodzinski and busting through the neutral zone for the zone entry. Pettersson and Leivo got a little crossed up on that entry, but, to be fair, they don’t have a lot of experience playing with Hughes and learning his tendencies.
Pettersson moved the puck back to Hughes at the point and he whipped it across to Schenn, whose shot was deflected out of play.
7 | 2:38 - 1:26
The Kings controlled the puck off a faceoff in the neutral zone, but Hughes stepped up and broke up an attempted zone entry from Lewis. The puck came off Virtanen into the Canucks’ zone anyway, but Hughes picked off a dump in and banked a pass to Schenn behind the net. Schenn moved the puck to Gaudette up the boards, and he found Hughes jumping up the middle for a clean breakout.
Hughes gave the puck to Spooner on the left wing for a zone entry with possession, then continued to drive up the middle, but Spooner’s pass deflected through to Quick, who covered up for the whistle.
8 | 16:04 - 15:30
This was Hughes’ worst shift of the game and part of the reason might be that he ended up playing on the right side off of a line change. As a result, his read and angle on Dustin Brown are a little off and Brown is able to drive wide around Hughes and get to the net.
As the play developed, Hughes got a little lost, looking for the puck off a blocked shot instead of taking his man. Brown ends up at the backdoor with a wide open net behind Hughes, but hits the post.
That shift should be a learning experience for Hughes.
9 | 13:25 - 12:45
Hughes wasn’t really involved in the play at all on this shift, but I had to capture in gif form the moment Austin Wagner pulled a Jan Bulis and piggybacked on Schenn.
It’s not as extreme as Bulis’s piggyback — nothing could be as extreme as Bulis’s piggyback — but it was still pretty funny-looking and bizarre that, like Bulis, Wagner somehow didn’t get a penalty.
10 | 11:50 - 11:17
Hughes came on for an offensive zone faceoff during a 4-on-4, playing the right side while paired with Alex Edler. You could see a little uncertainty in his positioning in the defensive zone, but nothing came of it. He kept a good gap on his checks, but didn’t get a chance to make a play on the puck before Demko’s mask was knocked off by a shot.
11 | 8:39 - 7:54
After a successful penalty kill by the Canucks, Hughes jumped on for a shift interrupted by a commercial break. Hughes stayed on after the break for the offensive zone faceoff, then again for another faceoff after the Kings iced the puck.
Off the second faceoff, Hughes got his first shot of the game, a hard and low slap shot through traffic that Quick kicked aside.
Then Hughes took a pass from Schenn and jumped down the left boards past Lewis, but his centring pass was blocked by Martinez. With the Kings breaking the other way, Hughes put his skating to work defensively, getting back in the neutral zone to pressure Matt Roy as he dumped the puck in.
12 | 5:31 - 4:57
Here it is: Hughes’ first point. And what a point it was.
Pettersson moved the puck to Hughes at the point after Leivo kept the puck alive in the offensive zone. Hughes sent the puck across to Schenn, who smartly gave it right back to Hughes.
That’s when Hughes dashed across the top of the zone and down the right boards, with Lewis trying to keep pace beside him. Once he got behind the net, Hughes banked the puck off the back of the net to himself and threw on the brakes, completely losing Lewis. He then pivoted above the goal line and handcuffed Quick with a wrist shot, leaving a rebound for Boeser to roof while falling to the ice.
There are a couple little things I love about this play. One is the great cloud of snow that erupts behind the net when Hughes pulls up, like when Luis Mendoza learned how to stop. Another is the spread eagle he does to pivot into his shot, opening up his skates to quickly get himself into position.
Then you have to love Boeser, Pettersson, and Hughes coming together after to celebrate the goal. There’s the future of the Canucks, right there.
Let’s take another look at the replay.
Schenn, meanwhile, wasn’t celebrating his defence partner’s goal, but instead mixing it up with Lewis after he buried Hughes with a solid check. Schenn was not having it.
13 | 4:10 - 3:05
Hughes made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone and quickly move it back down low to Spooner. He was then the first man back to the puck in the defensive zone, pivoting away from Brodzinski, but Virtanen’s outlet pass was blocked.
Hughes briefly lost position on Brodzinski heading to the net, but got back in position on pressured Amadio behind the net.
When Spooner couldn’t get the puck deep as Hughes and co. went their line change, the Kings got a good chance on a quick up, but Demko made the save.
14 | 0:34 - 0:00
Hughes kept position in front of the net, but didn’t have much to do on this shift. Demko did intentionally head a puck away from the net, though, so that was neat.
15 | 17:47 - 16:38
After some grinding down low by the fourth line, the puck came up to Hughes, who whipped it across to Schenn with authority. I really appreciate the crispness of his D-to-D passes: he seems to put some extra oomph on his follow-through that gets it across in a hurry.
Schaller sent the puck back to Hughes again and his shot snuck through traffic and just missed the far post, drawing a reaction from the crowd. When Tim Schaller got the puck up high, Hughes jumped up in the zone, looking for a pass, but Schaller stumbled and lost the puck. Hughes strapped on the rocket boosters and burned back to prevent the Kings from transitioning, stealing the puck from Clifford in the neutral zone. Eventually, Hughes sent the puck ahead for a tip in to get a line change.
16 | 15:58 - 14:58
Hughes sent another crisp pass across to Schenn. It was nice. Then Hughes tried to pinch down the boards, but the puck got chipped by him. No matter: with his speed, he was back in the neutral zone and would have beat Wagner to the puck even if Schenn hadn’t come across to cover.
Hughes then skated the puck through the neutral zone for a zone entry with possession, sending the puck around the boards for Troy Stecher. After Stecher’s shot deflected high, Hughes was first to the puck and sent it back to Virtanen covering for him at the point. Virtanen sent a slap shot towards the net, looking for a deflection, but instead hit Gaudette in the chest.
17 | 11:26 - 10:35
A stop and start shift. After a neutral zone faceoff, a Kings’ dump in went out of play, then a later dump in went for icing. Off the offensive zone faceoff, Hughes sent another crisp pass across to Schenn, which eventually leads to a chance for Boeser set up by Pettersson.
The Kings broke the other way and Hughes harried Carter to prevent a clean pass across to Lewis, which Schenn broke up. At the other end of the ice, Hughes joined the rush and picked up a pass that missed Beagle. Hughes stickhandled through traffic before banking the puck to Boeser, whose pass Beagle once again couldn’t reach.
To end the shift, Hughes held the puck behind the Canucks’ net before passing to Beagle for the breakout.
18 | 8:37 - 7:45
On a rebound chance, Hughes tied up Lewis to prevent a scoring chance. Unfortunately, Loui Eriksson was unable to move the puck out of the zone, as Lewis caught the puck at the blue line, then fed the puck to Adrian Kempe.
Schenn misread the play, focusing on Lewis down the boards, who was covered by Eriksson, instead of sticking with Kempe, who was his man before the turnover. That left Kempe wide open in the high slot. Hughes charged out to pressure Kempe, but couldn’t get there in time to prevent Kempe from ripping a shot past Demko’s blocker.
That goal is not on Hughes, who got back on Grundstrom in front of the net off the turnover, then recognized the danger when Schenn left Kempe and did his best to get out to him.
19 | 2:32 - 1:43
After an Alex Biega penalty took Hughes off the ice for a while, Hughes came back on as the Canucks controlled in the offensive zone. Hughes dashed up the right boards and tried to set up Boeser across the ice, but his pass was deflected away.
Hughes then took control in the neutral zone and sent Edler in on the left side. Pettersson, Boeser, and Leivo did some good work with the puck, then Hughes got checked as he tried to deke past Wagner. After that, Edler sent the puck back in offside.
20 | 0:08 - 0:00
Hoping for some last second magic, Travis Green and Nolan Baumgartner sent Hughes out for an offensive zone faceoff with 8 seconds left. He lined up on the right wing, Horvat won the faceoff to him, and he set up Boeser for a shot. Regrettably, he put the puck on Boeser’s backhand instead of in his wheelhouse for a one-timer. They talked about the play after; I suspect Hughes was apologizing.
21 | 4:12 - 3:13
Hughes came out with Pettersson and Boeser and the results were nearly magical.
The trio easily controlled possession in the offensive zone. Hughes got the puck down the left boards, cut across the slot, then tried to set up Pettersson with a blind backhand pass. That didn’t connect, but Hughes got the puck back shortly after and nearly set up Boeser for a tap-in goal in the crease.
Then Hughes took a pass from Boeser on the right side, danced around Anze Kopitar and cut through the slot, putting Quick completely down and out before snaking behind the net. He gave Pettersson the puck with an open net, but with all three Kings skaters lined up to block the shot, he passed off to Boeser. By that time, Quick had recovered and robbed Boeser.
With a little more time together, you can imagine those three dominating overtimes for years to come. Pettersson’s pass could have been a little quicker and Boeser needed to get his shot off a second sooner, and that’s a goal.
22 | 2:39 - 2:06
Hughes started his second overtime shift with a nice stretch pass to Leivo, whose shot went high and wide. It ended with him defending a Kings’ rush and forcing Toffoli into a weak backhand into Demko’s crest instead of a better chance.
Thanks to an interference penalty by Edler, the Canucks’ finished overtime on the penalty kill, so Hughes didn’t get another shift. He did, however, get an opportunity in the shootout.
Hughes had a decent attempt, weaving in and trying to catch Quick off-guard with a low shot five-hole, but Quick read it and got his stick down to make the stop before popping to his feet with a big smile.
Hughes was probably distracted by all the cell phones behind the net recording his attempt. Just watch the game, people! You can watch the highlights later!
So, what can we learn from an in-depth, shift-by-shift look at Hughes’ debut?
There are a couple things. One is that Hughes is as brilliant offensively as he was billed. He makes great reads in the offensive zone and picks the right times to be aggressive and jump down the boards. You can see that he’ll be a terror in 3-on-3 overtime with his skating and vision.
He’s fantastic in transition already, using his skating and passing to move the puck cleanly out of the defensive zone with possession. You can tell that he’ll be making a lot of forecheckers miss in his career and his underlying numbers reflect the ease with which he moved the puck up ice.
Defensively, there are a couple notes to make. He’s great at defending in transition, using his skating and a smart stick to disrupt plays and keep players to the outside. His play on Carter is emblematic of that, keeping Carter wide before making a great read to check MacDermid.
Where he struggled a bit in his first game was when the play stayed in the defensive zone. At times, he looked a little lost and unsure where he was supposed to go. That was most readily apparent on the Dustin Brown chance, but there were other moments where he ended up on the wrong side of his man in the defensive zone or got caught puck-watching.
That’s not too surprising: he’s 19 and that was his first NHL game. It just stands out a little bit as the other parts of his game look so mature already. It’s a safe bet that his in-zone coverage will improve, as he’s such a smart player and makes such great reads. With time to adjust and more games under his belt, it should become less of an issue. It’s just something to keep an eye on as Hughes develops.
All in all, it was a sparkling debut for an incredibly exciting player. He’s going to be fun to watch as the 2018-19 season wraps up and hopefully even more fun to watch next season.