As head coach Bruce Boudreau alluded postgame on Thursday night, Canucks lefty D-man Quinn Hughes can play the left side, right side, he could play centre and still be a star. His cross-ice saucer pass to find Andrei Kuzmenko coming off the bench to score the first Vancouver goal was a thing of beauty.
It was Hughes’s first time playing the right side top-pair ‘D’ position in an NHL game situation, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL) to his left.
“I loved it, I thought we pretty much dominated the first and second,” Hughes said in the media scrum, “I thought we were really, really good reading off each other, I thought he had lots of chances, I thought I had lots of chances, I don’t think we really gave up anything. I think we had one or two D-zone shifts in the second. The third I don’t think we played as well, mainly me, but the overall package I think we were really good together and I think over a long period of time we can really help each other.”
He sounds like he’s all for it, and if the Canucks coaching staff agrees, it’ll be interesting to see how the remaining D-depth shakes out.
The shift moves Hughes from left to right, the depth problems from right to left.
Below him on the right side would be Tyler Myers and likely Tucker Poolman, who looked healthy enough to take and deliver plenty of hits in the game against the Kraken after missing part of last season due to headaches. Kyle Burroughs would be another option.
“I’ve seen Burroughs many times, he competes every night out there,” Boudreau said Thursday.
Big Luke Schenn on the right side provided nice protection for Hughes last season, but if offence is what he’s looking for, he’ll find a lot more of it with OEL. And although he’s not adept at dropping the mitts like Schenn, Ekman-Larsson is no shrinking violet.
“First game in five months for both of us and first game playing together, but I thought, just reading off each other, his hockey sense, my hockey sense, we made a lot of plays together, so it was fun, I had fun out there,” Hughes said of himself and his partner.
The question then becomes, who plays the left side in the Canucks line-up below Ekman-Larsson. Travis Dermott was pencilled in, but he’s hurt, helped off the ice at practice the other day with a somewhat mysterious prognosis. Jack Rathbone would be the next option, but his all-around game remains a question mark. He’ll get another look for the Canucks on Saturday in Seattle.
Ready or not, come the regular season, Rathbone may be a fulltime NHL’er.
The Hughes shift scenario is one reason the Canucks brought in Danny Dekeyser, ten years a Red Wing, for a professional try-out (PTO). The 32-year-old won’t budge from the bottom pair if he makes it, his legs almost seem weary at the moment.
Righty Burroughs can play the left side, otherwise, the club is looking at one of the underlings emerging. I’d love to provide a list of viable candidates but I’m not sure it’s actually viable.
Salary cap handcuffs have placed these Canucks in a tenuous position, while the Hughes move itself, so often examined leading up to training camp, appears to be the real deal.