Truth By Numbers: Quinn Hughes becoming one of the NHL’s best defencemen

Quinn Hughes talked about getting his first taste of the playoffs and how he and the other young guys on the team are handling it.

Has there been any team these playoffs that has been more surprisingly good than the Vancouver Canucks? Jacob Markstrom being solid goes a long way, and J.T. Miller has been brilliant, but the standout for me has been young Quinn Hughes.

Hughes has been the seventh-most involved defenceman in his team’s offence of all blueliners left playing (eighth overall), creating 4.36 scoring chances every 20 minutes he’s on the ice. And he has the puck on his stick for a higher percentage of his ice time than any defenceman not named John Klingberg, with 2:02 of every 20 minutes being controlled by Hughes.

The amount of time Hughes has the puck on his stick is one thing, but what he’s able to accomplish with the puck while possessing it for over 10 per cent of the time he’s on the ice is truly impressive.

It may not seem like much on the graph, but improving the Canucks’ shot share from the inner slot by nearly four per cent is huge, and accounting for all shot attempts, Vancouver is over nine per cent better with him out there.

The real heavy duty impact he has, though, is what makes the rest of the differentials look small by comparison: his impact on slot passes. Without Hughes on the ice, the Canucks are getting just 36.2 per cent of the slot passes at 5-on-5, compared to 61.5 per cent when he’s on the ice. That’s a gargantuan change, something that can only really exist in small sample sizes, but even knowing that it isn’t sustainable, it’s still outrageous how much Hughes has dominated the passing game so far these playoffs.

Not only is Hughes preventing slot passes in his own zone with 5.46 blocked passes every 20 minutes, but he’s completing slot passes in the offensive zone like an elite centre, with 2.5 every 20 minutes. He’s in the top 10 per cent of all players in controlled exits and controlled entries, and on the power play he’s absolutely lethal. Thomas Drance said it best: Hughes is more than just a top rookie, he’s carving out his spot among the best in the league.

THE QUESTION

This week Steve Dangle had to ask about the Leafs. I know, they’re out and other teams are in. But Kyle Dubas’ end of season press conference made some waves for how defensive he was of previous moves and his unwillingness to question his current core despite four straight seasons of failing to win a series. The one thing that stuck out the most though?

“What was Dubas talking about when he said that Cody Ceci has good analytics?”

My first instinct is Dubas is just protecting his guy, and even though Ceci is a free agent, trashing a guy on his way out is a low class move that I’m sure players on other teams notice. However, even if that’s the case, would you believe this was Ceci’s best season since 2015-16?

That may be damning with faint praise for a player who has consistently been given more ice time than his play warrants, but there were some positives for Ceci this year. He had one of the lowest dump out rates in the league at just 21.3 per cent, and a high defensive zone exit success rate of 52.4 per cent. He was in the top 10 per cent of all defencemen for both, seriously.

He was also in the top 10 per cent in limiting inner slot shots against while on the ice, and won 3.17 puck battles per 20 minutes, which was also in the top 10 per cent. He was also within the top 20 per cent of all defencemen in defensive zone and neutral zone turnover rate, so there were areas of positives, but let’s be clear: that’s exclusively looking at his strengths.

On the other side of things, while Ceci won puck battles effectively, he leaves a lot of loose pucks alone for opponents to pick up. His 10.6 defensive zone loose puck recoveries per 20 minutes of ice time is in the bottom 10 per cent of all defencemen, and that’s far from the only important area he struggles.

He’s in the bottom 20 per cent of the league in cycle chances against per 20 minutes, and bottom 10 per cent in both entry denials and entry denial rate.

At the heart of it, Ceci is an incredibly flawed player who experienced a lot of isolated defensive success this year, especially when he was played on the third pairing shortly after Sheldon Keefe took over coaching duties. You can find areas that he’s good in, but overall he’s not a top-four level defender.

QUICK HITS

• Normally the spotlight performance this week would be Joonas Korpisalo, whose ridiculous performance still couldn’t steal Game 1 for Columbus, but I already wrote about him this week.

• How great of a series does Philadelphia-Montreal look like it can be? In Game 1 the slot shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 15-15. Slot shots on net? 8-8. Inner slot shots? 5-5. The Canadiens don’t have the talent the Flyers do, but they worked hard to keep the game tight.

• The difference at 5-vs-5 in Game 1? The Flyers added more layers of difficulty on their shots. The Canadiens were only able to connect on five slot passes to the Flyers’ 15. The Flyers got two deflections in the slot on net, the Canadiens zero, and Philly managed to get five one-timers on Carey Price compared to the Canadiens only getting one on Carter Hart.

• The Canadiens will need more from their top line to get back in this series, but one player to watch is Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen had four inner slot shots on goal at 5-on-5, and another at 4-on-4. That’s by far the most of anyone on either team.

• The Dallas Stars thrive on denying teams access to the inner slot, limiting shots better than almost every other team at 5-on-5, and cutting off passes into and through the slot to make things easier on their goalies. They usually play a low event game from those areas and maintain strong advantages, but the Flames outworked them in both areas in Game 1, adding a 7-3 advantage in rush chances. In Game 2, the Stars responded by playing their usual game, with a slight advantage in slot passes and a stalemate from the inner slot with just four shots for each side. They also neutralized the Flames’ rushing game and held a 4-1 advantage there. That’s how you respond.

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