Quinn Hughes entered his first full NHL season with sky-high expectations.
On the heels of Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser taking the league by storm, fans in Vancouver were starting to get used to seeing Canucks rookies succeed right away.
And yet somehow, some way, Hughes has managed to exceed those expectations.
Playing a more demanding position than both Pettersson and Boeser, the 20-year-old is now the team’s No. 1 defenceman — averaging a team-high 22:43 of ice time since December 1.
He’s playing tough minutes, usually against the other team’s top line alongside Chris Tanev, and still, he’s producing points at an incredible rate.
Hughes hit the 50-point mark on Tuesday, which leads all NHL rookies. That put him in some elite company at this point in the season.
The Canucks blueliner became just the second rookie defenceman in NHL history to hit the 50-point mark before all other first-year players.
The other to do it? None other than Nicklas Lidstrom — one of the greatest defencemen of all-time.
Quinn Hughes joined Nicklas Lidstrom (1991-92) as the second defenseman in NHL history to be the first rookie to reach the 50-point mark in a season.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 26, 2020
Lidstrom, by the way, finished with 60 points in 80 games during his rookie season. Hughes is on pace to not only finish with more points than that, he’s a year younger than Lidstrom was during his rookie season.
With 20 games left in the season, if Hughes keeps up his current production, he’ll finish with 10 goals, 56 assists, and 66 points.
If he can achieve this, it would qualify as the most prolific offensive season in Canucks history when you account for the fact that Hughes is a defenceman. Hughes has already tied Dale Tallon’s rookie record for assists (42) and if he keeps up his 66-point pace, that would tie Pettersson’s franchise rookie record set last season.
In terms of NHL history, Hughes has already achieved the 16th-highest point total by a rookie defenceman, and if he can stay healthy, he promises to rise up those ranks rather quickly, joining some elite company.
Should Hughes keep up this pace until the end of the season, not only would he pass Lidstrom, he would outscore Hall of Famers like Chris Chelios and Ray Bourque as well. A 66-point season would tie Hughes with Phil Housley, as the fourth-highest scoring season ever by a rookie defenceman. The only defencemen higher on that list would be Larry Murphy, Brian Leetch, and Gary Suter, who all put up points in the high-scoring 1980s.
Only eight players have ever recorded more than Hughes’ 42 assists in their rookie season, while a 56-assist season (his current pace) would qualify as the second-most helpers by a first-year blueliner in NHL history, just four behind Murphy’s 60-assist season in 1980-81.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Hughes should have slowed down by now. After all, he’s coming from the college ranks, never playing more than 37 games in a season for the University of Michigan.
But instead of slowing down, Hughes’ production has continued to soar, leading all rookies with 16 (3-13-16) points in 13 games since the NHL All-Star break, including six points in his last four games.
Hughes was targeted by the Canadiens Tuesday in Montreal, and that’s likely to continue down the stretch. But despite his size — he’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds — he’s been remarkably durable so far.
He’s also incredibly difficult to catch.
With an effortless skating stride, Hughes also has the ability to turn on a dime with elite edge-work. Couple that with the confidence to hold onto the puck, and the result is what we’re seeing the youngster do on a nightly basis.
Nobody walks the line like Hughes, as he has made a habit of making opposing forwards covering the point look downright silly.
The sky really is the limit for Hughes, who is a defenceman unlike any Canucks fans have seen before in the team’s 50-year history.