By: Brayden Fengler / February 13, 2022
During this season a great deal of focus has been on Elias Pettersson and his largely underwhelming performances. In recent games he has seemed to be a bit more impressive, even stating in a recent media availability “I’ve been feeling good for a while now and feel like me again”. Well, that’s definitely a good thing to hear, but it’s still a waiting game to see if his performance will remain consistent through the rest of the season, and better yet into next season as well.
If Canucks’ fans need an example of what it looks like to struggle one season and then to bounce back the next, they need not look any further than Pettersson’s contract buddy, in Quinn Hughes.
Hughes has stayed completely out of the negative spotlight this year, only attracting attention for the largely positive impacts that he has had on the team, last year though, that was not the case. Last season Hughes’ game was unbalanced, he contributed offensively but was not able to juggle that impact with the defensive side of his game, which is of course an important part of any successful d-man’s tool belt.
Even when this Canucks team was struggling this year, Quinn Hughes has continued to play at an impressive level at both ends of the ice.
So let this piece serve as a nice breather from worrying about Pettersson, and a reminder that these young players are still capable of impressing with change, even if that change takes longer than we’d all probably like.
Quinn Hughes’ Last Season Faults
Last season Quinn Hughes was no stranger to competing for the top of his team’s leaderboard in points. Hughes finished third among his team in points, earning 41 in 56 games played in the shortened season. However, his offence was never the issue. The issue last year was that he somehow lost the balance in his game and was not able to successfully toggle between being a productive offensive player and a reliable defensive piece.
For example one of Quinn’s regular line partners, Travis Hamonic, finished last season with a -3 +/- stat, and Hughes finished the year with a team-leading -24 +/- on the year. Now understanding that +/- is not the be-all and end-all of assessing defensive ability, it still provides a stark contrast in the case between Hammonic and Hughes. The second worst +/- player was Tanner Pearson who finished the year at -15, still a great deal better than the total left by Hughes.
Last year It didn’t take long for Hughes’ lack of defensive reliability to become a thorn in the side of many Canucks fans. Hughes is a high minutes contributor for this team and those minutes demand the use of the full range of his skills, not just half of them. As is typically the case with this market, Hughes’ defensive shortcomings couldn’t avoid the spotlight for long, becoming a part of regular dialog within the fan base, only a month or two after the season kicked off.
Plain and simple, last season Hughes dropped the ball on his defensive game, oftentimes letting himself get caught on an offensive pinch, leaving his backchecking duties on the back burner and causing his team to pay the price. His speed and ability to turn plays in favour of his team just weren’t there last year. The young d-man wasn’t a complete pylon out there, but when you have the minutes and the responsibility that Hughes does, he owes it to his team to put on a balanced performance.
By the end of last season, Hughes’ lack of defensive performance was on everyone’s radar including his own and then head coach, Travis Green’s. Hughes’ defensive skill sets were going to be a large part of his training between last season and this one, and it’s clear to this stage in the 2022 season that he did in fact put a lot of work into that side of his game.
Again this should spell some degree of reassurance for those equally as worried about Pettersson and the struggles that he has been going through this year. While there is no doubt a wide range of differences between the players, their similar ages and equally strong work ethics provide some grounds for comparison as well.
Hughes’s Dominance This Year
Hughes’ performance this season, has made any shortcomings he had last season, feel like a distant memory. As after 45 games played the young defenceman has shown little to no signs of reverting back to any of the mistakes that he made last season.
Hughes is still dominant on the offensive end of his game, sitting only second behind the team-leading J.T. Miller in points on the team leaderboard with 34 points to his name this season. That equals a .76 point per game pace, that for any forward that would be respectable, and for a defender it’s remarkable.
The scoreboard was not an area that Hughes struggled with last year so it’s great to see that that aspect of his game has not taken any steps back when his defensive game has very much taken a step forward. On the year Hughes sits with a +10 plus-minus, a world better than where he sat with that stat through most of last season.
His Corsi percentage has also improved a decent measure compared to last year, as Hughes had a career-worst Corsi percentage while at 5-on-5 last season. His percentage sat at 49.2% a significantly lower standing than his current percentage of 54.3%, which as it sits is actually the best Corsi percentage at 5-on-5 that he has had throughout his entire NHL career.
Will this number stay through the remainder of the season? Maybe not, but with 46 games played, more than half of the season gone, it’s surely a large enough sample size to allow yourself to feel positive about Hughes’ progress in the defensive side of his game. Especially when considering that last season’s rating only came from a total of 56 games played.
Hope For Canucks Youth
Hughes has stayed out of the spotlight in terms of storylines this year in Vancouver, and that is largely because many storylines, especially early on, have had a largely depressing or negative angle. However, there has been nothing depressing about the way Hughes has handled himself, through the good and bad months that this team has had this year.
With that being said of course Pettersson has then found himself in the spotlight of some stories and lines of questioning in the market this year. But if Hughes can rework his game after one off-season then there is a chance that Pettersson can do the same. Right now Pettersson is on a significantly better pace than he has been in other stretches of the season. Petey has 7 points in his last 10 games and hopefully, that pace continues.
But if it doesn’t, then perhaps Petey is just on the same timeline for change as Quinn Hughes. Maybe EP40 just needs a full offseason to reset and work on the aspects of his game that have been lagging this year. As for Hughes, his value is no longer in question and hasn’t been for some time.