The question has lingered about Quinn Hughes, but not long. The answer is coming sooner than anyone thought.
You would need to wait an entire National Hockey League career to confirm a "no." But Hughes is going to answer as a pure rookie, a 20-year-old in his first season removed from college hockey.
Yes, if he stays healthy, Quinn Hughes is going to break Doug Lidster’s 33-year-old record for points in a season by a Vancouver Canucks defenceman.
Lidster had 63 points in 80 games in 1986-87, the offensive peak by a blue-liner over the five decades the Canucks have been in the NHL. In 61 games over fewer than five months, Hughes reached 50 points with an assist in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win in Montreal.
He has 20 games left and has been getting stronger almost by the week. He is on pace for 66 points in 81 games unless his production and impact continue to accelerate.
His first visit to the Bell Centre was actually one of Hughes’ roughest games, literally and figuratively. On his first shift, the Canadiens’ Max Domi delivered a sharp cross-check across the kidneys that drove Hughes to the ice. Just because. On Hughes’ next shift, he was hit heavily by Phillip Danault.
Hughes turned over the puck several times, was partly at fault on one Montreal goal and unlucky on another. But by the end of the game, which Hughes nearly won in overtime the shift before Tyler Toffoli scored, the five-foot-10 defenceman had an assist and led the Canucks with 22:02 of ice time.
Since returning from January’s NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis, where he played, Hughes has three goals and 16 points in 13 games while averaging 22:06 of ice time — often deployed in a shutdown role with Chris Tanev at even strength.
For the season, Hughes’ 50 points rank fourth among NHL defenceman, sandwiched between Tampa’s Victor Hedman and St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo. No defenceman has as many points as he does since the All-Star break.
"For me, what I’ve learned, is your job is to move the puck and then you’ll get it back," Hughes said before the Canucks practised Wednesday in Ottawa ahead of Thursday’s game against the Senators. "That’s the fun thing about playing with good players. The longer you hold on to it, you’ll put yourself in a tough spot. You’ll get hit and stuff like that."
Is he better now than last fall?
"Oh, yeah, absolutely," he said. "The more I play, the more comfortable I get, the better I get."
"I mean this in a good way," Canucks winger J.T. Miller said, "but he doesn’t really have a pulse. I wish I had that (trait) in myself. If it doesn’t go well for him, he turns the page and moves on. If it does go well, he turns the page and moves on. It’s a great quality to have, especially at this time of year. (He is) a super big part of our team and he’s having a helluva year. I’m just happy for him."