The day Vancouver had been anxiously waiting for finally arrived. Quinn Hughes made his NHL debut Thursday night, and it was well worth the wait. He added a highlight reel assist in the second frame as the Canucks beat the Kings 3-2 in a shootout.
When Hughes met Schenn
The arrival of Quinn Hughes had been one of the very few sources of optimism in a season full of the opposite. The heralded prospect was paired with fellow defenceman Luke Schenn for his first taste of NHL hockey. Not exactly a pairing you would expect. But after 60 minutes of regulation, an overtime period and a shootout later—it looks like a match made in Heaven.
The fact that you can’t mention Hughes’ name without mention Schenn’s is a testament to the effectiveness of the peculiar pair. Schenn, a former NHL bust is looking for a permanent home in the NHL. Hughes represents the other side of the spectrum. Schenn is a defensive bruiser. Hughes is a smooth skater, has high hockey I.Q, and has a polished (for his age) offensive game.
They are polar opposites. But it works. You hit Hughes, you deal with Schenn. You trash talk Hughes, guess what? Schenn. You so much as look at Hughes the wrong way, you’re starting to get it now. It works so well that Luke Schenn might earn himself a contract extension just as Hughes’ bodyguard.
Opening shifts and growing pains
Billed as a player that makes wise decisions on the fly, Quinn did just that on his opening shift. With the puck shot down behind the Canucks net, Hughes played the boards perfectly and hit teammate Adam Gaudette with an outlet pass leading to the games first quality scoring chance. Not every shift went as smoothly in the initial frame.
His third shift in the game he got his welcome to the big leagues. See Quinn Hughes is not exactly a physical specimen. He’s a 19-year-old kid with a 5’10, 170-pound stature. Once he hits the weight room more, and as his body matures, size and strength will follow suit. He just is not there yet, so seeing him react to physical forwards barreling down on him was crucial.
He would not have to wait long to feel the impact of an NHL-sized collision. During that third shift, Hughes was on the receiving end of a thunderous hit by Kings forward Carl Grundstrom. Moments after the hit, he iced the puck off a miscued pass to teammate Tanner Pearson. Those would not be his only struggles. Early on in the second period, Dustin Brown walked around him and took the puck strong to the net. Later that shift, Hughes failed to pick up Brown by the side of the net, but luckily he missed a wide-open net once he received the pass.
We knew to enter the game unexpecting a polished performance from Hughes. There were going to be growing pains—mistakes were to be made—but he would learn as time went on. It was better for him to make these errors in judgment or positioning now than later.
Hughes puts the city on notice
Though the city was filled with angst, it was important to temper expectations. Too much pressure applied to the young man could be detrimental to his game. However, that is easier said than done when he does things like what he did in the second period.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) March 29, 2019
Fans jumped out of their seats in awe and jubilation over the scene displayed by the youngster. Taking the puck from the blue line all the way down to the end boards and behind the net, Hughes passed the puck off the back of the net and to himself. The move completely fooled Trevor Lewis, and then walked back out in front and took a shot on net. Jonathan Quick was able to steer the shot aside and prevent an earthquake in the arena, but the rebound was buried home by Brock Boeser. The goal gave the Canucks the lead, but more importantly, it showcased that the hype around Hughes was justified.
Overtime and a shootout attempt
The Kings tied the game up in the third. But does anyone really care? With the ice surface expanded in 3-on-3 overtime, this was just another platform for Hughes to show out. And that’s what he did. Coach Green put Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes over the bench with a few minutes to go in the overtime period. Canucks fans could not have asked for more. And the three players—who all represent hope for the organization—almost ended the game.
Quinn Hughes, as he did in the second, took the puck behind the net and fed Pettersson who made the extra pass to Brock Boeser. The puck movement was something to marvel, but it did not result in the game winner. Jonathan Quick was on his game. He robbed Boeser in this instance, and once more on a 2-on-1 with Pettersson again feeding him the puck but Quick ready for the task.
Overtime solved nothing, so a shootout was to determine the victor. Quinn Hughes got selected by Green as the Canucks second shooter. The crowd raised to their feet as they watched the future of their franchise take the puck and make his way to the Kings goaltender. Like I said, Quick was on his game. He stood tall and deterred the rookie of his moment. He could not save them all though. In the fourth round, Tanner Pearson solved him and the Kings could not reply with a goal of their own to continue play.
As far as the 2018-19 season is concerned, and how things turned out, this was a meaningless game the Canucks won. Yet it had the atmosphere of a playoff game. There is optimism for a city that has had very little hope over the past years. Quinn Hughes represents a new chapter for the team and the city.