Going into Thanksgiving, there’s a Hughes making waves in the Calder Trophy race – it’s just not the Hughes most people thought. Quinn Hughes has two goals and 21 points in 25 games with the Vancouver Canucks this season. The defenseman is second in the scoring race behind only Cale Makar and Hughes is logging a solid 20:20 minutes per contest. Hughes’ strong play this season isn’t a revelation – he looked great with the University of Michigan and during his five-game trial with Vancouver in 2018-19 – but it’s fair to say he’s exceeded even the high expectations that were placed on him.
His strong rookie campaign is part of a larger Canucks rebuild that has produced some great talent. Elias Pettersson won the Calder Trophy last season while Brock Boeser finished second in voting in 2017-18. This is shaping up to be the third year in a row where Vancouver has a finalist in the rookie category.
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Meanwhile, Quinn Hughes’ younger brother, Jack Hughes, has been a mixed bag. The New Jersey Devils took Jack Hughes with the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, but unlike some other top picks, he hasn’t provided an immediate impact.
Jack Hughes has four goals and 11 points in 23 games with most of his production coming from a run from Oct. 17-Nov. 7 (8-4-5-9). Before that hot streak he hadn’t recorded a point and in the nine games that have followed it, he’s registered just two assists. Eventually he should be a great forward for the Devils, but he’s clearly going through some growing pains.
In the meantime, this has been a painful season for New Jersey. After drafting Hughes, acquiring PK Subban and Nikita Gusev, and signing Wayne Simmonds, the Devils are just 8-11-4 this season. To put that in perspective, New Jersey was at 9-10-4 at this point last year. In other words, they’re doing worse this time around despite adding four significant pieces.
Part of the problem is that their additions haven’t really performed as hoped. As mentioned, Hughes isn’t having an ideal rookie season for a top pick. Meanwhile Gusev, who was a star in the KHL, has had some defensive issues and has just eight points in 20 games. Subban, despite being an offensive force with Montreal and Nashville, has been limited to five points in 23 contests with the Devils. That leaves Simmonds as surprisingly the one who has lived up to expectations the most with four goals and 10 points in 23 contests.
The Devils were also naturally hoping that Cory Schneider would turn things around this season, but instead he fell further. He had a 0-4-1 record, 4.59 GAA, and .852 save percentage before he was finally sent to the AHL. Maybe he can regain his confidence in the minors and turn his career around. Otherwise his contract is going to be a headache given that he comes with a $6 million annual cap hit through 2021-22.
Speaking of contracts, Taylor Hall remains unsigned past this season and the Devils’ struggles probably isn’t convincing him to stay. It’s a tough situation because obviously the Devils want to keep him, but if they can’t sign him before the trade deadline, they might be better off shipping him away. They don’t want to end up with a situation like the Islanders had where their star forward walks and they get nothing in return. Granted, the Islanders have excelled since Tavares’ departure, but they’ve excelled despite missing their opportunity to trade Tavares for picks and/or prospects, not because of it.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom for the Devils though. As mentioned above, Hughes should eventually become a great forward despite the growing pains. The Devils have another promising young forward in Nico Hischier and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Subban eventually become the defensemen the Devils were hoping for when they acquired him. It’s entirely possible that none of that will happen this season, but New Jersey should be looking to the future anyways. Speaking of, the silver lining in the Devils struggles is that they’re likely going to have another great draft pick this summer.
One team whose fortunes have reversed lately have been the Toronto Maple Leafs. The season got off to a rocky start under Mike Babcock, but Toronto has won its first three games under new bench boss Sheldon Keefe. Of course, there’s still a lot of hockey left to play, but the Maple Leafs significantly underperformed under Babcock, so I’m more inclined to believe that their bounce back is a sign of things to come rather than a blip on the radar.
If the Maple Leafs are truly going to be a better squad going forward, then that further complicates matters for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They haven’t hit the same lows that Toronto experienced, but the Lightning haven’t really found their footing this season. They’re going into Thanksgiving with a 12-8-2 record. By contrast, Tampa Bay was 17-7-1 at this point last year.
To be fair, the Lightning are trending in the right direction, winning six of their last nine games, but right now they rank fifth in the Atlantic Division at a time when both Wild Card slots are firmly held by the Metropolitan Division. The Lightning have played in 22 games, the least in the league, so their situation isn’t truly dire yet, but they haven’t looked like the same kind of force to be reckoned with that they were in 2018-19. The best thing they can hope for is that some regular season struggles keep them sharp for the playoffs in contrast to last year when they cruised to the playoffs only to get swept in the first round.
At the least thought, Andrei Vasilevskiy needs to heat up. He has posted a 9-7-0 record, 2.90 GAA, and .908 save percentage in 16 starts, which is a far cry from 2017-18 when he finished third in Vezina Trophy voting and 2018-19 when he won the award.