Canucks: Hughes’s ice time is down as Tocchet looks to manage minutes

Quinn Hughes is still playing a lot but not as much as he was under Bruce Boudreau.

One thing is clear with coach Rick Tocchet in charge of the Vancouver Canucks: Quinn Hughes is playing less.

The Canucks’ No. 1 defenceman was regularly hitting 26 minutes per night under former coach Bruce Boudreau, but in the first five games under Tocchet, Hughes only played just over 24 minutes in a game once.

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Under Boudreau, Hughes was averaging 18:47 per game at 5-on-5.

Under Tocchet, Hughes is playing 17:10 per game at 5-on-5.

Is this a case of seeing if Hughes can up the quality of his game if given a little less in quantity?

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The trade off, of course, is handing minutes to a group of defencemen who have struggled this season. For example, in the three games Riley Stillman has played for Tocchet, he’s over 18 minutes a night, a surprising surge given how difficult much of his season has been.

Tocchet has made it clear on how he thinks the Canucks can be more successful: they need to play a more direct “north-south” game, with less roaming and more “structure,” whatever that might mean.

Hughes, one expects, will be able to roll with whatever his coach throws at him. He’s still young, quick and agile.

The question is whether the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers, who have both struggled this year, can find new life under Tocchet’s deployment strategy and the tutelage of two new defence coaches in full-time assistant Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar, who is working in a part-time role as the team’s “defensive development coach.”

Tocchet was Ekman-Larsson’s coach for four seasons in Arizona. The Swede was at the top of his game in the first two years at least.

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“I think we have a great relationship,” Tocchet said after he was hired, asked about rumours that they had had a falling out at the end of their time together.

“I think it’s a little blown out of proportion,” he said, though he did indicate they had had difficult discussions about where his game was at during their time together with the Coyotes in 2021.

“He’s played some good hockey for me in Arizona … yeah we had our talks about his game, absolutely. Does that rub players the wrong way? Yeah. But if the player knows where he stands, and Oliver always knew, they respect that,” he said.

Asked just before the all-star break whether structure could give Ekman-Larsson and Myers new life, Tocchet said he thought so.

“If (Myers) plays a simpler, he plays a half-the-ice type of game, he can be very, very effective. And that’s why I brought Footie and Sergey in there to really help a guy like that,” he said. “Sometimes it’s nice not to notice him, where he just does the right things.”

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