As with a few prospects drafted in the first several selections of the NHL Entry Draft, the discussion around Quinn Hughes since the Vancouver Canucks picked him seventh overall in June’s draft has centred around where he will play next season.
For some draftees, it’s not a mystery. The Buffalo Sabres took Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick and it’s widely known that he will slot into the team’s roster right away.
For others, like Hughes, there’s a decision to be made.
Although there are three potential destinations for the rearguard, the situation essentially comes down to two options: either the Canucks sign Hughes this offseason, believing him to be ready for the pro game, or they don’t.
If they don’t, Hughes will go back to the University of Michigan, a scenario that—surprise, surprise—his coach at the school, Mel Pearson, is in support of.
But, if the Canucks do deem Hughes ready for the pro game, they’ll sign him and either send him to Utica of the AHL or throw him on their starting roster. Though general manager Jim Benning and president Trevor Linden are non-committal regarding the blueliner, the marketing efforts of the team indicate the latter.
Simply put, Hughes is likely the best skater among Canucks defencemen, even at 18 years old. He’ll turn 19 in October and while it’s not all that common for blueliners to play in the NHL the year after they’ve been drafted, the likes of Aaron Ekblad, Seth Jones and Noah Hanifin have pulled it off in recent years.
He will have to add some muscle though, as his 5’10, 170 pound frame will be a target for onrushing forecheckers.
So if the team does sign him, the chances of Hughes spending the season in Utica seem slim. He may start the year, but if they believe he can play in the pros, that likely means the NHL level. It wouldn’t seem financially prudent to burn a year of his entry-level eligibility on a year in Utica.
Of course, if he does play on the big club, it means that a veteran will be the odd man out. Barring an injury, it seems that both Derrick Pouliot and Ben Hutton would have to be out of the Canucks’ lineup in order for Hughes to play in Vancouver’s top six.
We’d love to see Hughes at the NHL level, but unless injury strikes early on the Canucks blueline (and hey, Chris Tanev is on the roster), it seems like Vancouver would have to deal a defender in order for there to be room for Hughes.
Maybe that’s why the decision on where Hughes will play has been delayed as the team tries to work out a deal for one of their other blueliners. One can dream.
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