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2021 Canucks Top 25 Under 25: Stuck at #2, how long until Quinn Hughes challenges for #1?

The dazzling defender is now the highest-paid player on the team annually.

Vancouver Canucks v Detroit Red Wings”n
Quinn Hughes #43 of the Vancouver Canucks skates in in warm ups before an NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on October 16, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit defeated Vancouver 3-1.
Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome to the 2021 Edition of the Vancouver Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings. The list includes all players born after January 1st, 1997. Seven staff writers (Beggsy, Westy, Kent Basky, CanucksAbbyFan2, Markus Meyer, Noah Strang, Harsunder Singh H) and two outside writers (Daniel Gee & Cam Robinson) cast votes for the project.

Jack Hughes may have been onto something.

During an interview last month, the middle Hughes’ brother said that he thought his elder sibling had been disrespected last season.

While Hughes undoubtedly struggled defensively in 2020-21, claims about his demise and ineffectiveness were assuredly overblown.

That much was evident based on some of the reaction in this market about Hughes signing a deal in the neighbourhood of $8 million per season. We wrote about this initial report prior to Hughes signing a contract with $7.85 million over six years, but it’s clear that a sizable portion of fans didn’t believe Hughes was worth that much.

To those I say, why do you have to be mad?

Oh, right, probably because “we are all Canucks.” That can’t be easy.

It’s no secret that Hughes wasn’t as reliable defensively as he was as a rookie. However, he was still the Canucks’ best defenceman last season. Not only in his ability to put up points but even defensively, only Alex Edler had a lower expected goals against total. Only Olli Juolevi was on the ice for fewer scoring chances against...and he was facing the easiest of NHL competition throughout his ice time last season.

Travis Hamonic was also no Chris Tanev, despite latter year improvement.

Here’s the truth. Hughes took a step back defensively last season, but he wasn’t as bad as the masses think he was. He was the team’s best defenceman, albeit on one of the worst bluelines in hockey.

What’s Next for Hughes in 2021-22?

The smart money bet is that Hughes bounces back defensively, and maybe he even takes a small step forward offensively as well.

It’s no secret that Hughes is dynamic on the power play. Nearly 50% of his points come on the power play so far in his career. Last season, he was quietly effective despite the Canucks’ power play tanking overall. His points-per-60 with the man advantage was 5.59 last season, compared to 5.86 in 2019-20. The Canucks problem on the power play last season wasn’t Hughes...but largely it was the inefficiency of the second unit.

One other thing to note is that because of the pandemic, Hughes has yet to play in a full 82-game NHL season. That should change this year, so you can expect Hughes to set a new career-high in power play points. His career-high was 25 man advantage points back in 2019-20.

Speaking of career highs and records, we were robbed of Hughes smashing a number of league and franchise records back in 2020. One that seems well within reach is Doug Lidster’s franchise record of 63 points from a defenceman.

Hughes will break that one eventually, but there’s no reason to think that won’t happen this year if everything goes right for the star blueliner.

Despite the apparent disrespect during the offseason, there’s little doubt that Hughes is one of the most important players in the Canucks organization. He’s the engine that drives both the defence and the power play, and a huge season out of Hughes will go a long way towards helping the Canucks return to the playoffs.