Canucks’ Quinn Hughes to return from COVID-19 shark protocol

“Some people can’t take a day off. Some people can take maybe 16 days off and just be awesome because they’re awesome. I hope Quinn falls into that category.” – Bruce Boudreau on Hughes’ return

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Under constant siege, an exit strategy for the exhausted Vancouver Canucks has been those big puck shots in the neutral zone.

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It’s not the most attractive, creative, or efficient way for a struggling offensive club to escape the forecheck and generate offense. It looked like a sign of surrender.

This has happened often in the last three games following Quinn Hughes in COVID-19 quarantine in the United States. It was a stark reminder of how the quick, quick-thinking, quick-passing defender can ease pressure with a quick pivot and then unleash that long tape-to-tape pass to leap forward.

That hadn’t happened since Feb. 1 in Nashville when he recorded 26:46 of ice time in a 4-2 win over the Predators.

Hughes is scheduled to play in San Jose on Thursday, and while worry is usual about any player trying to shake off the symptoms of the virus and find his game quickly, he is no ordinary player. He is constantly working at his craft to keep pushing the performance bar.

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Hughes skated and practiced and Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t be surprised if the 22-year-old wonderkid didn’t miss a beat against the Sharks.


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“Something tells me there are people in this world who can’t take a day off,” the Canucks coach said. “Some people can take maybe 16 days off and be awesome because they’re awesome. I hope Quinn is in that category.

It’s a good bet because Hughes gobbles down ice time like he’s at a buffet.

He recorded a career-high 31:07 on Jan. 29 in Calgary and has gone over 26 minutes in seven of his last eight outings. He is the club’s second-highest scorer with 34 points (2-32) and his plus-10 rating is a product of improved defensive play and better overall awareness. And his 17 power-play assists rank him fourth among his NHL peers.

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Sometimes you lose perspective because what Hughes does at night has become commonplace. It is when the opponent receives the full dose of the defender that the appreciation needle changes from impressed to amazed.

Matthew Highmore, who also returns Thursday from COVID, has good wheels. However, when he faced Hughes two years ago while with the Chicago Blackhawks and had to hunt the elusive defenseman, it was a real eye-opener.

After all, how do you keep a guy who can break your ankles with a quick turnaround from trouble that’s backed by sublime cutting edge work?

“I played him in this building (Rogers Arena) and I couldn’t believe his ability to get out of control to make an exit play out of the D-zone,” Highmore said Wednesday. “So I’m not necessarily surprised (now) because he continues to improve. He’s a key part of our defense corps and he’s really a special player.

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Oliver Ekman-Larsson had a points push in Hughes’ absence and also anchored the first unit on the power play. His five points (1-4) over the past three games is an opportunity with two power-play assists — he played 6:01 on the power pay Saturday against Toronto and finished with a season-high 25:31 — and get more shots from the point.

He’s had eight shots and a dozen more blocked or missed in that run, but knows what it will mean to get Hughes back.

“Great organization and an amazing player,” Ekman-Larsson said. “You appreciate him more when he’s on your team with the way he can move the puck and skate. It’s quite impressive.

“I didn’t expect him to be so good in the D zone and he works there every day and wants to be a good two-way defender. It struck me when I came here. He’s really good all over the ice and we need him to make plays. And he’s such a nice guy. I am happy to be on his team and to help him.

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As for that own game, Ekman-Larsson showed something with Hughes on the sidelines.

“I know I can still play with the puck,” he said. “I knew the situation with Quinn and I just did what the team needed me to – whether it was on the power play on the No. 1 unit or killing penalties – and it didn’t really matter. important to me.

“I know I’m a good player and I can still play with the puck, shoot and score. It was good to score points, but to be honest I don’t think I was playing that well when the points came. But it’s also nice to get on the board.

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As to where and what Hughes was doing in the United States, or allowed to do while in quarantine, was a mystery as his location was never disclosed by the Canucks. A good bet is that he wasn’t glued to a video game console, judging by past comments about his downtime.

“I left my Xbox at home (Michigan), so that’s how much I care about the game,” he once told this reporter. “I left it because I had forgotten about it and didn’t care because I didn’t use it at all in the summer. It’s just gathering dust down there.

Hughes loves going to the movies, so if it worked out with the protocols, he probably grabbed a movie or two.

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