Quinn Hughes is a very good hockey player, there is no doubt about that. But just how good? Well, there’s a good chance that it’s something special.

Hughes is off to a fantastic start to the 2019-20 NHL season, playing an integral role in the Canucks’ somewhat surprising early-season success. After 21 games played, Hughes’ totals are impressive to say the least.

2 12 17 2 -2 6.5 20:11 0:02 4:04

There’s no doubt that the early offensive output has been a result of Hughes’ transcendent skill. The rookie sensation has dazzled with the seamless transition of his speed, puck-handling, and vision from the NCAA to the NHL, setting up goals with sublime passing and scoring with a booming slap-shot.

His underlying numbers re-enforce exactly what the eyes are seeing, too. (Counts are at 5v5, with minimum 250:00 TOI)

293:28 56.10 53.85 58.84 56.12 62.50 9.59 .905 1.001

Hughes’ CF% ranks 8th amongst all defensemen, but what’s most impressive is his Expected Goals For%, as it ranks fourth in the league (teammate Chris Tanev ranks first), while the rest of his possession numbers are flirting with “elite” status in the league.

Hughes’ start has shot him out to an early two-player race for the Calder trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, challenged only by the Colordo Avalanche’s Cale Makar. Hughes ranks behind only the Edmonton Oilers’ Ethan Bear in terms of total TOI/GM amongst rookies, while his 4:04 PP TOI/GM– slightly ahead of Makar’s even 4:00– ranks first, leading all defenseman on the Canucks by a landslide (Alex Edler is the next closest with 2:47).

Admittedly, that while Hughes’ offensive output is impressive– ranking him second in rookie scoring– Makar’s is prolific, with the Avalanche defenseman’s 22 points in 20 games (5g-17a-22pts) is in the conversation with the likes of Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr in terms of all-time rookie scoring.

But what might work in Hughes’ favour as the season progresses and he looks to over-take Makar in rookie scoring, is not something that is often associated with defensemen: shooting percentage. Though he only has two goals so far, Hughes is shooting at very reasonable, sustainable 6.5%, while Makar is shooting at a ludicrous 13.2%. Since Tyler Myers won the Calder trophy in 2019-10, there have only been four players who have finished in the top five in rookie defensemen scoring who have also had a shooting percentage above 10.0%: Myers with 10.6% and Michael Del Zotto with 11.1% in 2009-10; John Klingberg with 11.2% in 2014-15; Shayne Gostisbehere with 11.2% in 2015-16 (Aaron Ekblad won the Calder with a 7.0 SH% in 2014-15).

All this is to say that Hughes is contributing offensively in a way that is more likely to remain consistent over the balance of an entire season (although Makar’s shooting percentage hasn’t dipped below 13% since he was called up last season). The shooting percentage, along with the opportunity available to him on the powerplay, only work in Hughes’ favour. Every player who has finished the season as the top scoring defenseman has also finished with the most powerplay points, save for three seasons: 2010-11 where Kevin Shattenkirk finished with 43pts and 15ppp, while Cam Fowler had 23ppp; 2011-12 where Jake Gardiner finished with 30pts and 7ppp, while Justin Faulk had 12ppp; 2014-15, where Klingberg finished with 40pts and 12ppp, while Ekblad had 13ppp and, of course, won the Calder. Makar and Hughes both currently sit at 9ppp.

It’s all setting up to be a fight right to the finish line for rookie supremacy this season, but with the way Quinn Hughes plays, it’s going to look very nice as it happens.