Quinn Hughes made his debut in Vancouver during the 2019 World Juniors, teasing Canucks fans with a glimpse of his elite skating and ability to transition the puck up ice. Since moving the puck out of the defensive zone is one of the issues that plagues the Canucks’ current defensive corps, fans are eager to see Hughes back in Vancouver as soon as possible.
That could come sooner than you might think. Thanks to some serious goaltending issues, the University of Michigan is struggling, meaning Hughes’ NCAA season season — and potentially career — could quickly come to a close. If Michigan’s season ends before that of the Canucks, Hughes could leave the NCAA and sign with the Canucks, much like Brock Boeser and Adam Gaudette did before him.
In fact, Hughes could make his NHL debut as early as March 13th against the New York Rangers if Michigan gets eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Big 10 playoffs.
That would leave 13 games remaining in the Canucks’ season, enough time for Hughes to provide a boost to the back end for a playoff push or to provide Canucks’ fans something to look forward to for next season if they miss out on the postseason. It would also give the Canucks and Hughes a chance to evaluate his game and identify areas of focus for off-season training.
13 games is a dangerous number, however, thanks to the looming spectre of the Seattle expansion draft in 2021.
If Hughes plays more than 10 games this season, it will count as a professional year played for the purposes of the expansion draft, according to The Athletic’s CBA guru Ryan Biech. That would mean one more spot taken up on the protected list and one more player left exposed.
Is Jim Benning concerned about Hughes and the expansion draft?
“No. I’m not worried about that,” said Benning.
That’s from an interview with Mike Halford and Jason Brough on TSN 1040 on Friday. The wide-ranging interview touched on a wide array of topics, including Nikolay Goldobin’s development, Alex Edler’s future, and Elias Pettersson’s personality, but his comments on Hughes stood out.
“I don’t think that we have a worry on defence with protection problems in that expansion draft,” he said. “We want to get him going and see where he’s at and that will give him experience going into next year too.”
Keep in mind, NHL teams can only protect seven forwards and three defencemen in the expansion draft, unless they choose to protect just eight skaters. If Hughes plays more than ten games, they’ll only be able to protect two other defencemen.
This is something to keep in mind as the Canucks look to re-sign Edler: if they give him a no-move clause and his new contract is for at least three years, he’ll have to be protected as well.
The Canucks have other young defencemen that they’d likely look to protect, like Olli Juolevi, Ben Hutton, and Troy Stecher. If the Canucks look to free agency to bolster their defence, whoever they sign would also likely require protection.
Perhaps Benning’s comments suggest that the Canucks aren’t too worried about losing someone like Hutton or Stecher.
Ultimately, this might be a moot point: maybe Michigan makes it past the first round of the playoffs and, by the time Hughes joins the Canucks, there won’t be enough games left in the season to worry about him playing too many. It just seems odd to be so blasé about the expansion draft: while it’s still two years away, decisions made now could lead to a tough situation in the future.