Canucks' Hughes on Boudreau: 'You want to run through a brick wall for him'
22-year-old says he's 'in a good headspace' heading into 4th full season
Quinn Hughes has a long history with his head coach.
The Vancouver Canucks star defenceman was a kid in the mid-2000s when Bruce Boudreau patrolled the bench for the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs.
Quinn's dad, Jim Hughes, was his assistant.
All these years later, and on the heels of an encouraging first act, the young blue-liner is keen to see what's in store for the Canucks with a full season of Boudreau at the helm.
"He brings a lot of energy," Hughes, set to turn 23 next month, said at the recent NHL/NHLPA player media tour.
"You want to run through a brick wall for him."
Boudreau replaced Travis Green — general manager Jim Benning was fired at the same time — in early December with the club 28th in the overall standings.
The 2008 winner of the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year flipped the mood almost overnight in Vancouver, securing victories in his first seven games and gaining a cult-hero status among fans as chants of "Bruce, there it is!" to the tune of "Whoomp! [There It Is]" rang around Rogers Arena.
Boudreau, 67, went 32-15-10 in 57 games, good for the fifth-best points percentage in the Western Conference over that span. And while he didn't get Vancouver into the playoffs — "There wasn't enough runway," Hughes said — that showing gave management faith his style was the right fit.
"I love Bruce," Hughes said. "Very genuine person, cares about his players. Excited to play for him for a whole year."
Where the coach deploys his smooth-skating, left-shot blue-liner when training camp gets underway this week will be an intriguing storyline.
Hughes spent the first three-plus NHL seasons of his career on his natural side, but is eager to test life on the right for a franchise that's had difficulty filling the role with elite-level talent for some time.
Hughes willing to play left or right side
"There's more opportunities for me on the right side to get my feet moving at the [offensive-zone] blue line," he said. "I find myself on the left side getting stationary sometimes."
Having not played consistently on the right since his days at the U.S. National Team Development program, Hughes spent a chunk of the summer working on how he hopes to attack opponents from a different perspective.
"I'm on my forehand on the [right] side and I can backwards skate and take it down the wall," said the seventh overall pick at the 2018 NHL draft. "If a pass comes across, I can just cut in on my forehand and shoot. On the [left] side, I have to put it on my backhand and open up — I don't really have many options.
"The good thing is I can play both [left and right] in the same game."
This development comes after the offensive dynamo, who set a new Vancouver record for points by a defenceman with 68 in 76 games last season, volunteered to take on penalty kill duties for Boudreau's group.
So, the question must be asked: Why is he trying to make life more difficult for himself?
"It's probably a little bit tougher [on the right]," Hughes, who will also have to adapt in his own end, responded with a grin. "At the same time, if I'm on the left, I'm playing with a really good partner in Luke Schenn.
"I'll play left or right, it doesn't matter."
For the Canucks to return to the playoffs, they'll need to keep pace with Calgary, Edmonton and Los Angeles — last season's top-3 seeds in the Pacific Division — while Vegas looks primed to bounce back despite its goaltending uncertainty.
Hughes thought there would be an opening after Calgary lost Johnny Gaudreau in free agency and traded Matthew Tkachuk to Florida, but a return that included Jonathan Huberdeau from the Panthers, plus the signing of Nazem Kadri, ended any thought of the Flames falling off.
'I'm expecting a lot from him'
"Would have liked to see them go like this," said Hughes, motioning his hand downward to make the point before quickly rotating it back up to a 45-degree angle. "But it seems like they're going like this.
"Those are teams we're going to have to beat out."
The Canucks need Elias Pettersson to build on his finish to last season after both he and Hughes missed training camp due to contract negotiations.
The Swedish centre registered just 17 points in his first 37 games before putting up 51 over the final 43 contests.
"There was lot of pressure on him and on [Green's] coaching staff," Hughes said. "They were hard on the players. Petey just got to a place where he was really comfortable.
"I'm expecting a lot from him."
Hughes was glad to see J.T. Miller ink a seven-year, $56-million US contract extension that kicks in next year despite a lot of trade rumours involving the Canucks' leading scorer.
"He's ultra-competitive, like to a fault," Hughes said of the 29-year-old centre. "He'll do whatever it takes to win.
"I saw him sign — I was surprised — but I was really happy for him."
One player with an uncertain future is Canucks captain Bo Horvat, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
"A great leader, a great person," Hughes said. "He has a lot of good values that I think you'd want in your organization. You never hear him complaining about anything. He takes on any assignment.
The value Hughes brings to the Canucks, meanwhile, can't be overstated as he enters his fourth full season.
"I've seen a lot," he said. "I'm in a good headspace. I've worked on a lot of different things.
"I'm getting to understand the league and the players a bit more and what I can do."
He'll find out soon enough if that includes playing big minutes on Vancouver's troublesome right side.