Updated: Nov 6
Courtesy of Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
When you think of the best defensemen currently in the NHL, the same names usually come to mind. Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Victor Hedman, maybe even Erik Karlsson after the historic season he had last year. But one player that is often forgotten, and deserves to be in the conversation, is Quinn Hughes.
Every hockey fan knows about the Hughes brothers. Quinn, Jack and Luke are the only set of three brothers to have all been drafted in the first round of the NHL draft. While Jack (1st overall in 2019) and Luke (4th overall in 2021) were both drafted by the New Jersey Devils and are now teammates, Quinn was drafted 7th overall in 2018 to the Vancouver Canucks. Since joining the team his rookie year in 2019-20, he has been crucial to the rebuild and is now a vital part of the core.
For years, Hughes has flown under the radar as one of the best defensemen in the league. He finished second in Calder Trophy voting behind Cale Makar and has received votes for the Norris Trophy on three separate occasions throughout his career, but has never been one of the finalists. Hughes set career highs last season by collecting 69 assists and 76 points in 78 games and has cemented his name among the Vancouver history books as the defenseman with the most points in a season which he set in 2021-22 and broke himself last year. Plus, after being named the 15th captain in franchise history, Hughes has taken on a new sense of responsibility which is a testament to the kind of player he is in the first place.
But now, in the beginning of the 2023-24 season, there has been plenty of attention on his brothers while Quinn is quietly off to the best start of his career. So how is Quinn Hughes still an underrated player and why should hockey fans everywhere stop overlooking his elite level of play?
Courtesy of Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
As of Nov. 6, Hughes leads all defensemen in goals (4), assists (12) and points (16) through 11 games played. That’s four more points than the next d-man which is Shea Theodore and puts him ahead of Makar, Fox and Hedman! Plus, Hughes leads the entire league in plus minus rating with a whopping +14. But beyond the basic statistics that prove he’s on a new level, among all defensive pairs that have played over 150 minutes together this season, Hughes and Filip Hronek have only allowed two goals against which is the lowest in the league.
Only 11 games into the season and Hughes has already had insane performances while accomplishing milestones or putting his name among the greats . On Oct. 31, Hughes became the second active defenseman to record 250 points prior to playing in his 300th career game and tied Paul Reinhart for the twelfth fewest games required to reach the mark (292). In Vancouver’s 10-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 2, Hughes collected a goal and four assists to record the first five point game of his career and tied the franchise record for most points by a defenseman in a game (Jeff Brown on Feb. 20, 1995 vs. LAK). And Hughes was named first star of the week by the NHL due to his level of play over the last three games.
Hughes is poised to have the best season of his career and is at the helm of leading the Canucks back to the playoffs, maybe even to the team’s first ever championship. But then why is he still seen as an underrated player in the NHL?
There is an argument to be made that many don’t consider Hughes to be among one of the best because during his first few years in the league, the Canucks weren’t a great team. And many hockey fans on the East Coast don’t always pay attention to the teams on the West Coast due to the time difference of when games are played. Despite all of this, Hughes is aware of the pressure and how people view his game which he only uses to improve.
“Y’know how it is. ‘He’s an offensive defenseman, but he’s not good at defending.’ And I’ve been plus the last two years, and playing big minutes. So for me, the stereotype is there. A lot of guys don’t watch the West, but I’m out here trying to do the best I can.” Hughes said in an interview with The Athletic's Thomas Drance earlier this season.
It has never been more obvious that Hughes is one of the top five best defensemen currently in the league. And even though it’s still early in a long season, he definitely deserves to be in the Norris Trophy conversation this season. But before we even get there, it’s time to stop overlooking Quinn Hughes because he’s an elite defenseman and is on the same level as so many of the other great d-men playing right now.