Another season, another Vancouver Canuck as one of the league’s top rookies.
After Brock Boeser’s nearly unstoppable performance in 2017-18 and Elias Pettersson’s Calder Trophy-winning production last season, Quinn Hughes has taken up the mantle as one of the league’s top freshmen and he’s giving the Calder race everything he has. Wednesday night, Hughes registered his 19th, 20th and 21st points, and in doing so, he and Cale Makar became the first pair of defensemen to be the first of their rookie class to reach the 20-point plateau. That’s noteworthy considering Kaapo Kakko and Jack Hughes were considered to be at the head of this group of freshmen.
Most impressive about Hughes’ scoring is the way in which he’s piled up points. His three-assist night in a whirlwind 8-6 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins made him the first Canucks rookie blueliner to register a trio of three-point outings. Crazy to think that he’s done so in just two months, too. But crazier yet is that if he keeps it up, Hughes could be chasing down a bit of post-lockout-era history.
Since the lockout in 2004-05, 20 rookie defensemen have recorded seven or more multi-point performances in a single season. Following Wednesday’s performance, Hughes has now managed two or more points in six of his 25 games. And while Mark Howe (1970-80) and Larry Murphy (1980-81) are the only first-year NHL defensemen in the past 40 years to have more than 20 multi-point contests in a season, not a single rookie rearguard has managed to exceed 15 in the post-lockout era. However, Hughes has that mark in his sights, at least given his current pace.
So, with 57 games remaining in the Canucks’ season, how many more multi-point outings will Hughes need to stake his claim as the rookie blueliner who is the best at scoring in bunches? Here’s a look at the five-best multi-point marks by freshmen defensemen in the post-lockout era:
Zach Werenski, 2016-17 – 12 games (Columbus Blue Jackets)
For as good as Werenski has been in his short career, it’s a bit surprising that his best offensive output – 47 points – came as a freshman. Werenski totalled 25 points across his 12 multi-point games in 2016-17, highlighted by three point-plus outings in March. Over the past three seasons, Werenski has 15 multi-point efforts, including a four-point contest against the Boston Bruins last season and two deuces this November. Werenski hasn’t been much of a goal scorer in his career. He has just one two-goal game in four seasons, but he’s on pace for his first 20-goal, 50-point season right now.
Dion Phaneuf, 2005-06 – 11 games (Calgary Flames)
The 2005-06 rookie class was among the best in NHL history, and Phaneuf-mania was running wild. Phaneuf, currently sitting on the sidelines as an unrestricted free agent who has 494 career points, started with a successful 20-goal, 49-point season, bolstered by 11 multi-point games. Among them, a three-point effort against the Vancouver Canucks in November led the way and he managed at least one multi-point performance in every month of the NHL season. Two seasons later, Phaneuf recorded the only 60-point season of his career, his five-assist game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in December marking the best offensive output of his career. He finished as the runner-up for the Norris Trophy that season.
Will Butcher, 2017-18 – 9 games (New Jersey Devils)
Butcher is only one full season removed from his best NHL output, a 44-point freshman effort in 2017-18 that earned him some Calder Trophy consideration. It couldn’t have started much better, either, as he recorded a season-high three assists in his NHL debut against the Colorado Avalanche before following it up with two-assist efforts the following week against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers. He took a step back offensively last season despite seeing a bump in ice time and responsibility, recording just five two-point efforts en route to a 30-point season. It’s still early, but he’s on pace to match that total in 2019-20, but with three goals in 21 games, he’s in line to reach a double-digit goal total for the first time in his career.
Kevin Shattenkirk, 2010-11 – 9 games (Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues)
Shattenkirk may have had a tough time getting settled during his rookie season as he was shipped off to the St. Louis Blues by the Avalanche by the time the deadline rolled around, but his performance didn’t suffer. Shattenkirk led all rookie defensemen with 43 points, finishing ahead of the likes of Cam Fowler, P.K. Subban and John Carlson. Shattenkirk often put up points in bunches, too. From Nov. 20 to Dec. 17, while still with the Avalanche, Shattenkirk had five multi-point contests. Coincidentally, his final two-point game came against Colorado at the end of the season. Shattenkirk’s 43-point effort was a good indication of what the defender was capable. He’s plying his trade as a top-pairing defenseman in Tampa Bay and has recorded more than 40 points five times over the past nine seasons. He’s on pace to hit that mark again this season.
John Klingberg, 2014-15 – 8 games (Dallas Stars)
Four rookie defensemen have posted eight multi-point outings in the post-lockout era, but Klingberg is the only of those rearguards with a four-point effort and his 18 points are the highest total across the eight games. The second half of the 2014-15 season was when Klingberg really came into his own. From Jan. 13 to Feb. 2, Klingberg recorded five multi-point games, including a two-goal, four-point effort against the Winnipeg Jets. It was the start of something special in Dallas, and Klingberg has since become one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL. He managed 58 points as a sophomore (14 multi-point games) and a career-high 67-point campaign in 2017-18 (15 multi-point games). Points haven’t come easy for Klingberg this season – he has eight through 20 games – but Dallas can still count on Klingberg as a blueline leader.
(All numbers from Hockey-Reference.)
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