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Canucks Hughes leans on experienced voices as he rockets to incredible start

Canuck assistants Gonchar and Foote have been there, done that at the highest levels of hockey
Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes waits for a faceoff during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks in Vancouver, on Monday, November 20, 2023. Hughes is the first player to crack the 30 point mark in the 2023-24 NHL regular season with eight goals– tying a career-high – and 22 assists.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Quinn Hughes maintains he’s not getting carried away by the numbers.

He’s the first player to crack the 30 point mark in the 2023-24 NHL regular season with eight goals — tying a career-high — and 22 assists.

“Yeah, I mean I was second in the league for defencemen last year, you know, it doesn’t really mean much at the end of the day,” he said on Monday after the Canucks beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1.

Hughes is the third defenceman in NHL history to have 30 points in the first 17 games of the year.

The Canucks captain has shown his offensive potential during his five seasons with the Canucks, but has stepped up a level since receiving the captaincy as well as with input from two former elite defencemen in coaches Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar.

“They’ve all given me pointers,” Hughes said about the input from the pair. “I’ve tried to be coachable. They’ve helped my game, they’ve helped our team’s game.”

Both joined Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet in January 2023 when he took over the reins from Bruce Boudreau.

Foote works as the team’s assistant coach with Gonchar the team’s defensive development coach.

“I knew he could defend and I knew he could play but I didn’t know how competitive he is,” Foote said about Hughes.

The Stanley Cup winner and former Colorado Avalanche defenceman turned coach was a different type of player than Hughes, but he said he and Gonchar have tried to impart some of their wisdom on their defensive charges.

“We try to explain to them everything we’re telling you is something we got burnt on by some great hockey player, which I think puts them more at ease,” said Foote.

“Everything we say, we did it wrong or didn’t do it a better way.”

Gonchar became the first Russian defenceman to score 20 goals in an NHL season in 1998-99. He followed up his 21 goals that campaign by surpassing the 50-point mark the following season with 54.

Foote, meanwhile, had 308 points (66 goals, 242 assists) in over 1,000 games with the Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche.

Hughes said Gonchar has helped him work on the offence aspect of his game and been a sounding board for tips and tricks to learn when attacking.

It’s a change from the 2022-23 season, when Hughes started without a goal for the first 29 games, finally snapping the streak in a win over the San Jose Sharks.

“I think I know going into the game, I know I’m going to get one of those looks,” he said after his eighth goal of the 2023-24 season on Monday.

Tocchet has been quick to pay tribute to his staff and highlight the importance of delegating working with players to them.

“It’s important when you have an Adam Foote, a Sergei Gonchar, the (Sedins), (Mike) Yeo, I’d be nuts not to use those guys,” he said.

Tocchet also highlighted the differences between Hughes start to this season compared to previous campaigns.

“He said ‘I have to have a good training camp and a good start’ and he’s parlayed into that,” said Tocchet.

“He’s in the Cale Makar category now. I never saw a guy like Makar who walks that blue line and you’ve got to throw (Hughes) in there. The way he walks that blue line is incredible.”

For Foote, who works closely with Hughes, he said he can see the adjustments Hughes is making as teams become adjusted to the Canucks’ offensive product and style.

“We’re not catching teams by surprise anymore,” said Foote.

“He’s learning to manage the game, manage his opponent, recognizing when they’re coming after him and not trying to do too much.”

Hughes plays on the team’s top power play unit and has 14 power play points this season, nearly half the amount he had all season last year.

Foote said he knows when there’s an offensive push, Hughes will be looking to catch his eye.

“I start giggling sometimes, sometimes I know when there’s an offensive drive, I can’t look to the right cause I know he’s right there,” he said. “It’s fun.”

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