Jack Todd: Quinn Hughes's success in Vancouver bodes well for Canadiens' Lane Hutson

Canucks’ captain having a Norris Trophy-calibre season and proving smaller defenders can excel in the NHL if they are talented enough.

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There are unexpected boons on a journey to the West Coast to spend time with a seriously ailing friend.

You find yourself watching in awe as 100-foot-tall Douglas firs emerge from the mist at dawn. You rekindle a half-century of friendship in this setting with the friend who introduced you to hockey 53 years ago, during that heady spring when the Canadiens somehow upset the Bobby Orr Bruins en route to the Stanley Cup. Neither of us possessed a television, so we watched the games in taverns, leaving one game in despair with the Canadiens down 5-1 in favour of blues at the Esquire Show Bar only to learn that Montreal had staged the most legendary of comebacks to down the Bruins, 7-5, and set the miracle rolling.

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So here we are, half a century on, two old friends watching all or part of four hockey games on one Saturday, including the Canadiens’ narrow loss to the Maple Leafs and the evening’s finale with Vancouver meeting the Winnipeg Jets in a tussle of powerhouse western teams.

One of the pleasures of life on the Left Coast has to be watching the surprising Canucks every other night. J.T. Miller, Elias Petterson, Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko — a fully functioning team up and down the lineup, with big defencemen, mobile forwards, solid goaltending and, in Rick Tocchet, a coach who has brought it all together. (I’ve had my differences with Tocchet in the past, but only a fool would argue that he hasn’t done a brilliant job with this team.)

Then we have Quinn Hughes. The greatest pleasure in watching the Canucks is seeing Hughes jitter along the blue line on the power play, changing direction on a dime, turning defenders one way and then the other, probing, probing — and finally unleashing the tape-to-tape pass that breaks down the defence.

Young M. Hughes, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, is the player from the 2018 draft. Not Rasmus Dahlin, not Andrei Svechnikov, not Barrett Hayton or Filip Zadina, definitely not Jesperi Kotkaniemi, not even Brady Tkachuk even if you like his car commercial.

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While the Carolina Hurricanes and the Canadiens were locked in an adolescent battle to see who could pee furthest in the tussle over Kotkaniemi (and forgetting that they happened to be facing one another at the time) the guy both teams could have drafted in the first place was quietly emerging as a team captain and bona fide Norris Trophy contender on the West Coast.

As of this writing, Hughes leads all NHL defencemen in scoring with 13 goals and 63 assists for 76 points. He also sports a gaudy plus-36 on the plus-minus scale, not bad for a guy who is listed as 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds. For those who have already anointed Cale Makar as the Norris Trophy winner, it may be time for a rethink.

There’s more to this than the success of Quinn Hughes. Lurking in the wings, perhaps able to make his Canadiens debut this spring, is one Lane Hutson. Watch Hutson glide and jitter along the blue line and you think of Hughes, and vice versa. Both are young defencemen, both are American, both are undersized, both are wondrously talented.

Hutson is now listed at 5-foot-9 and 162 pounds, bigger than he was when the Canadiens drafted him, smaller than Hughes but not by all that much. If Hughes can survive and thrive in the mayhem of the NHL through sheer talent, then it’s likely that Hutson can too.

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Nothing in hockey is as unpredictable as the leap from junior hockey or the NCAA or the European leagues to the NHL. Some will soar and some will crash. Will Hutson be battling Hughes and Makar for the Norris four or five years from now?

The crystal ball is foggy. But after watching Quinn Hughes for a week, I see no reason Lane Hutson can’t thrive with the same tools.

Chasing the game: You subscribe to every cable sports channel available from your provider. You throw in a streaming service or two. You try not to add up the total monthly cost of your addiction.

Then you sit down to watch CF Montréal play Leo Messi’s Inter Miami club and you discover that not only is Messi not playing, that game is only available on Apple TV.

You face the annoyance of trying to watch the Winnipeg Jets when they’re perpetually blacked out in our neck of the woods. You can’t get the Arsenal game next Tuesday because it’s on DAZN.

It’s called Chase-the-Game and it’s a game the major sports leagues play at their peril. How do you win new fans when the games they want to see are scattered all over obscure and expensive streaming platforms?

Heroes: Mike Matheson, Juraj Slafkovsky, Alex Newhook, Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Sam Montembeault, Mikael Kingsbury, Fernando Alvarez, Sunusi Ibrahim, Oliver Bearman, Marion Thenault, Pete Maravich, Caitlin Clark &&&& last but not least, Francis Marion.

Zeros: Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe, Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews, Matt Rempe, Mark Shapiro, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

Now and forever.

[email protected]

twitter.com/jacktodd46

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