Quinn Hughes has a long history with her head coach.
The star defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks was a young boy when Bruce Boudreau coached the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League in the mid-2000s.
Quinn’s father, Jim Hughes, was one of Boudreau’s assistants.
After all these years, and following an encouraging first stint, the young defenseman is eager to see what the Canucks can offer under Boudreau’s tutelage for a full season.
“He brings a lot of energy,” Hughes said during a recent media tour. You want to go through a brick wall for him.”
Boudreau replaced Travis Green – general manager Jim Benning was fired at the same time – in early December, when the Canucks were 28th overall in the NHL.
The 2008 Jack Adams Trophy winner as Head Coach of the Year changed morale for the Canucks, earning a win in his first seven games with the team.
The 67-year-old Boudreau went 32-15-10 in 57 games at the helm of the Canucks, which was good for the fifth-best point percentage in the Western Conference during that streak.
And while it wasn’t enough to get Vancouver’s squad into the playoffs – “there wasn’t enough time left,” Hughes said – his results gave leaders hope that his style was the right one.
“I really like Bruce,” Hughes said. He is a very genuine person and he cares about his players. I’m excited to play for him for a full year.”
Where on the ice the head coach will deploy the young, smooth-skating defenseman during training camp will prove an intriguing story.
Hughes has spent his entire NHL career on his natural left side, but is eager to test the waters on the right, for a team that has struggled to fill that role with elite-level talent for some time.
“There are more opportunities for me to activate my feet on the right side on the offensive blue line,” he said. I happen to be static on the left at times. The good thing is that I can play both sides in the same game.”
The situation comes after the offensive powerhouse, who set a Canucks record for most points by a defenseman in a single season (68 in 76 games), voluntarily agreed to be a shorthanded player in the of the Boudreau group.
So there’s a question that needs to be asked: Why is Hughes trying to tough it out?
“It’s probably a little more difficult (on the right side), admitted Hughes with a small smile. At the same time, if I’m on the left, I play with a very good partner in Luke Schenn. Left side or right side, it doesn’t matter.”
For the Canucks to return to the playoffs, they will need to keep pace with the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings – the top-3 in the Pacific Division last year – while the Golden Knights of Vegas seem ready to pull themselves together despite the uncertainty in net.
The Canucks need Elias Pettersson to build on his end of the season, after he and Hughes missed the start of last camp due to salary negotiations.
The Swedish centerman had only 17 points in his first 37 games before getting 51 points in the last 43.
“There was a lot of pressure on him and on the coaches,” Hughes said. They were tough on the players. ‘Petey’ entered an area where he was very comfortable. I expect a lot from him.”
Hughes was also happy to see that JT Miller had signed a seven-year contract extension with the Canucks, following several rumors surrounding the team’s leading scorer.
“He’s ultra competitive,” Hughes said of Miller. He will do anything to win. I saw him sign his contract – I was surprised – but I was very happy for him.”
There is one player for whom the future is uncertain and that is Canucks captain Bo Horvat, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
“He’s a very good leader and a very good person,” insisted Hughes. He has good values that an organization would want to have in my opinion. He doesn’t complain about anything. He accepts all roles. It has immense value.”
The value Hughes brings to the Canucks, meanwhile, can’t be overstated as he enters his fourth full season.
He’ll know soon enough if that includes playing big minutes on the left side in Vancouver.