By Lukas Weese
It didn’t take long for Quinn Hughes to make an impact against the St. Louis Blues.
In the first period during the first power play of the game, the Canucks defenseman set up Bo Horvat in the slot, who sent his slap shot into the back of the net.
It was one of three power-play goals as the Canucks defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions 5-2 in Game 1 of their first-round series.
For Hughes, his point streak in his first Stanley Cup playoffs appearance continues.
“When there’s an offensive zone faceoff, there’s a good chance you will see him out there,” Canucks coach Travis Green told reporters Thursday. “We want to get him out in the offensive zone as much as he can. He’s one of our best offensive defensemen.”
With his assist Wednesday, Hughes has seven points in first five post-season games. He is the eighth defenseman in NHL history with seven or more points in his first five playoff games, a list that includes Hall of Famers Ray Bourque and Sergei Zubov.
A reminder: he is only 20 and an NHL rookie.
Hughes came into the playoffs after a stellar rookie season that made him a Calder Trophy finalist. He recorded eight goals and 53 points in 68 games to lead all first-year players in scoring.
Most notably, Hughes was the co-leader along with Canucks winger J.T. Miller power-play points with 25. The closest Vancouver defenseman to Hughes in this category was Alexander Edler, who recorded seven points on the power play.
Below is a graph comparison, showing the Canucks unblocked shot rates at even strength with and without Hughes:
When Hughes is on the ice, Canucks forwards have a rate of 2.87 (+12%) expected goals per 60 minutes, with the majority of the shots coming from point-blank range (the red area). Without Hughes on the ice, the Canucks expected goals per 60 rate drops to 2.44 (-5%).
While the Canucks have talented goal scorers upfront in Horvat, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser, there is still a void in scoring chances when Hughes isn’t on the ice.
This is because Hughes’s speed and puck-moving abilities are paramount to the Canucks offense. His vision and playmaking ability allow him to outlet passes to kickstart the rush, as well as see an open men on the power play.
And the Canucks aren't hiding Hughes. Playing with partner Christopher Tanev, Hughes is often matched up against the opposing team’s best players. To wit: in approximately eight of Hughes’ 15:09 even-strength minutes played in Game 1, he was matched up against the Blues' top line of David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly and Zach Sanford.
Below is a comparison of the Blues' first-line expected goals with Hughes on the ice 5-on-5. (Expected goals is a measure of the percentage of total goals while a combination of players is on the ice.)
Hughes’ size was a concern coming into the season, particularly in his own end where the thought was he'd get outmuscled. But as seen in Game 1, Hughes was willing to sacrifice his body with a blocked shot, and he generated in takeaways in both the offensive and defensive zones.
The Canucks riding a four-game playoff winning streak, thanks in large part to their rookie defenseman, making his mark on the playoffs and earning the respect of his teammates.
“He’s a smart player whose very humble and wants to get better,” Canucks veteran defenseman Alexander Edler told to reporters Thursday. “It’s fun to have him on the team in his first year and for him to get his first playoff taste. It’s only going to get better.”