Those who cared were ecstatic when the Arizona Coyotes went off-script at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas, Texas and picked Soo Greyhounds centre Barrett Hayton at fifth overall.
And they lost their minds when, a pick later, the Detroit Red Wings selected Halifax winger Filip Zadina.
That’s not to spread any sort of hate on those two players, who are both still expected to have solid NHL careers.
But it gave the Vancouver Canucks an opening to select a potentially game-breaking defenceman the likes of which they hadn’t seen before in Quinn Hughes.
And, to his credit, Canucks general manager Jim Benning took it.
Hughes has been better than expected in his first full NHL season. He has 23 points in 27 games and has been dynamic on a majority of his pro shifts. Sure, there are some aspects of his defensive game he can clean up, but his powerplay prowess and ability with the puck more than make up for those. And he’s already gotten better in the defensive zone over his short career.
And while it’s hard to ascertain what exactly connotes a “steal” in a draft, it’s a question we have to try to answer (if only because the title of this article demands it).
It also must be said that it’s extremely early to be evaluating this draft class, obviously. But hey, people are already speculating who the Canucks are going to protect in the 2021 Seattle expansion draft. So screw it, let’s do this.
The first thing to establish is whether there is a player from the 2018 draft that you’d want more than Hughes right now if you’re the Canucks.
To that end, Rasmus Dahlin is a more polished defenceman than Hughes. But he was the consensus first overall pick. That can’t be a steal.
The next two picks, forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, have gotten off to great starts in their NHL careers. But that’s what you expect from those two slots. Brady Tkachuk was a great pick by Ottawa at number four and looks like a power forward who is destined to wreak havoc on the league for years to come.
Would the Canucks want any of those players (aside from Dahlin) over Hughes? Probably not, even if it's very hard to say no to Tkachuk.
The club badly needed a game-changing rearguard, and it looks like they got one. Yes, there are some other promising players picked after Hughes who looked primed to have long careers in the big leagues, like Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson and Joel Farabee.
And there's no doubt that some prospects picked in the later rounds will emerge as absolute steals in the years to come.
But for now, it’s hard to say that Quinn Hughes at the number seven slot in the 2018 Entry Draft isn’t the steal of the draft.
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