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Canucks’ Top 25 Under 25 (2022 Edition): #1 Quinn Hughes

Quinn Hughes continues to emerge as one of the most important Canucks in franchise history.

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Welcome to the Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings, the series that makes you wish you were under 25 again. The list includes all players born after April 15th, 1998.

Folks, after weeks of ranking the top young players in the Canucks organization, we have finally come to an end, and it probably doesn’t surprise you who sits atop the list.

it is, of course, Quintin “Quinn” Hughes.

You could have easily built a case for Elias Pettersson, or even Vasili Podkolzin if you’re a huge Podkolzin truther, but the fact of the matter is Quinn Hughes is a product unlike any other to pass through the Canucks organization.

He is already the greatest defenceman, in terms of raw skill, to ever don a Canucks jersey. His skating, vision, and overall offensive prowess is something entirely unprecedented in the organization’s 50+ year history.

He’s already broken Doug Lidster’s record for points in a season by a defenceman, putting up 68 points to Lidster’s 63. He may have done it in his rookie year (where he was the runner-up for the Calder Trophy) had the COVID-19 pandemic not cut it short.

Hell, he’s already 12th all-time in points by a defender in Canucks history — and could very well get as high as sixth by year’s end.

He’s an extraordinary player, and he’s proven that everyone — myself included — who was hyped up when he fell to the team at 7th overall in 2018 was justified in their excitement.

Hughes is not only an offensive phenom, but his defensive game has come a long way too. He’s proven that he can handle tough minutes, and Hughes uses his skating to be a true preventative force.

Is he a perfect defensive player? No, but he’s grown leaps and bounds, and there’s no reason to think he can't continue to improve.

Some still, of course, say he’s too small. I have yet to see substantive evidence that Hughes’ stature has made him a notably worse NHL player. In a league moving toward offence and skill, Hughes in fact seems well-placed for the era.

The Canucks have never had a true #1 defender. All due respect to the likes of Alex Elder, Mattias Ohlund, and Ed Jovanovski, who all had decorated careers, but they were never franchise-altering defencemen.

For my money, Hughes is almost certainly one.

What’s Next for Hughes?

It’s tempting to say that we can’t ask for much more out of Hughes. After all, he’s already in the upper echelon of many franchise scoring records, and has already established himself as one of the league’s most dynamic young defenders.

We all know, though, that the best is probably still yet to come.

As we watch Hughes progress this year, it’s reasonable to expect him to come up in Norris Trophy conversations. The old guard — think the Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara types — have fully moved on, and this new generation of defenceman battling for tops in the league certainly should include Hughes.

What should we look for, then?

His defensive game certainly took a noticeable step last season, so it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll see him further refine that side of his game. Despite his incredible offensive instincts, he’s also never been a huge goal scorer — could his shot take a step? Having a Hughes bomb on the power play would certainly change the dynamic for the club with the man advantage.

From a more intangible perspective, you could also hope for Hughes to become a more outspoken presence in the locker room, as part of a new era of Canucks leadership.

I think what will be most telling, though, is whether or not Hughes can be a single-handed play driver on a pair. The narrative tends to go that Luke Schenn is needed to complement Hughes, because he needs a tough, stable partner.

Ultimately though, top-tier defenders are elite regardless of their partners. They’re such a transcendent force on the ice, that their partner is more of a footnote than anything.

That’s what I want to see from Hughes: a level of dominance that grants the team the freedom to play with the rest of their lineup without worrying about who to put with #43.

It’s tough! Only a handful of defenders reach that level of quality.

Time will tell if Hughes can take that leap, but he certainly has the tools to do so. And if he does, it portends great things for this franchise.