Captain Quinn? Canucks coach Tocchet talks up Hughes' leadership

May 4 2023, 7:30 pm

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There are three obvious candidates to be the next captain of the Vancouver Canucks, but Quinn Hughes is gaining momentum.

Hughes, along with Elias Pettersson, are the faces of the franchise, but both are relatively mild-mannered. J.T. Miller has more experience than Pettersson and Hughes and isn’t afraid to speak up. But his inability to control his emotion has gotten him in trouble in the past.

The favourite to wear the C, in the minds of most people after Bo Horvat was traded, appeared to be Pettersson. And indeed, he plays a responsible two-way game, has a great work ethic, and is coming off a career-best season.

But while Pettersson gets more of the spotlight, you can say the same things about Hughes.

A bit of a dark-horse candidate among the three favourites back in January, given the recent comments from head coach Rick Tocchet, perhaps the Canucks’ star defenceman should now be considered the frontrunner.

“I’ve been there four months. We’re a quiet team,” Tocchet said during an interview on the Missin Curfew podcast when asked about the personalities in the Canucks’ dressing room. “I’d like to see guys chirping a little bit. Millsy will try to chirp. Conor Garland, he’ll try to chirp some guys. We probably need a little bit more.”

Then, unprompted, Tocchet brought up Hughes, who appears to be blossoming into a leader.

“You know who really took a big role for me, is Hughes. His game was incredible for us. He’s an underrated defender. I remember going there not expecting how good a defender he is — he defends different, obviously,” Tocchet told hosts Shane O’Brien and Scottie Upshall.

“He kind of reminds me of that Adam Fox. They’re hockey nerds, they play the game really smart. He wants to be one of the top three defence. He wants to be included in the Norris Trophy every year. And he can get there. He was incredible.”

On the ice, Hughes does it all. He finished second in NHL scoring among defencemen this season, and his 25:40 average ice time was the fourth-highest in the entire league. Hughes is not only a fixture on the power play but now is a key member of the penalty kill as well.

But does he have the personality to wear the C?

When asked specifically about Hughes’ leadership qualities and if they could be enough for the 23-year-old to be named captain, Tocchet again spoke glowingly about his best defenceman.

“Absolutely. He’s projecting to that level,” Tocchet said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. We’re not in a huge rush.”

There’s no guarantee that the Canucks will name a captain for next season, but it certainly could be Hughes. Once empowered by Tocchet to take over the room, Hughes began to speak up more.

“Huggy has really made that [upward] trajectory to be a captain. He’s done some things that are uncomfortable. He’s said some things that are uncomfortable that you have to do to say to teammates, or to a coach, or to put your balls on the line. That’s what captains do.

“It’s not just about organizing a team party. It’s about putting your teammates first and also being able to go into a coach’s office and say, ‘Hey man, Tocc, you gotta back off in practice, I’ve got this. I guarantee the next game, we’ll be ready to play.’ I love that about him.”

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