Canucks’ Quinn Hughes continues to smash through rookie wall

It was around this time last year that Vancouver Canucks centre Elias Pettersson hit a wall.

He had played 57 games, including playoffs, during 2017-18 with the Swedish team Vaxjo. But in in his first season in the NHL the number of games and travel involved finally caught up to him.

“I was getting tired,” said Pettersson. “Everything was new. The schedule is tighter and there are a lot more games.”

Pettersson won the Calder Trophy last summer as the NHL’s top rookie with 28 goals and 38 assists in 71 games. In his final 23 games of the season, the then 20-year-old from Sundsvall, Sweden, had just two goals and 10 assists.

“For this season I knew what I was preparing for, so I added that to my workouts this summer,” he said. “I feel a lot better and feel fresher.”

Canucks rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes played his 58th game of the season Sunday afternoon, earning an assist in Vancouver’s 5-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. The most college games he played in a season at the University of Michigan was 37. Last year he played 32 college games, seven at the World Junior Championships and five in the NHL after he joined the Canucks.

‘I feel so good right now’

If Hughes is feeling the wear and tear of a long NHL season, he isn’t showing it. He leads all rookies with 45 points and 37 assists. Over the last 10 games he’s collected three goals and eight assists while averaging around 20 minutes a game.

“I feel good right now,” said the 20-year-old who grew up in Toronto. “I knew this was coming so I felt like I prepared myself over the summer mentally and physically.

“I have to get good sleep and eat right ant take care of my body. If I do all that I will be feeling good.”

WATCH | Quinn on hand to see brothers’ 1st NHL goal:

The 2019 first-overall pick puts his first on the board as a New Jersey Devil. 0:42

Hughes believes his game has improved as the season progressed.

“The more games you play, the more experience you get, the more comfortable you feel,” he said. “I said my game was going to change and get better.”

Forward Adam Gaudette joined the Canucks in 2018 after three seasons at Northeastern University where he earned the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA Division I hockey.

Gaudette knows the jump from college to professional can be a challenge.

“Travel takes a toll on you mentally and physically,” he said. “It’s tough to be mentally sharp every game. You have to force yourself to do that.”

Smart approach

Head coach Travis Green said Hughes is wired to be a hockey player.

“He’s a smart guy,” said Green. “This is a guy that lives and breathes hockey. We don’t have to tell him a lot. He knows how many games he’s played in the past. He knows he has to take care of himself, get his rest and be mentally prepared, not just physically.

“I think he’s well on his way to being able to handle that.”

Gaudette said the Canucks do a good job looking after their young players. Staff make sure the players eat the proper food. The trainers and equipment people take care of any problems.

“They make it as easy as possible,” he said.

WATCH | Hughes nets OT winner against Islanders:

Vancouver edges New York 4-3 with an overtime goal from Quinn Hughes for their 5th straight win. 1:27

College teams often play one or two games on a weekend, and practice for the rest of the week. Hughes said some weeks he was on the ice six days straight. “I almost feel better here than I did last year,” he said.

“They were working us so hard in practice. That catches up to you in January and February.

“Sometimes I wasn’t even making myself better. Practice was too [much], it was boring. The games are good.”

Gaudette called practice a necessary evil at any level.

“You always need practice,” he said. “You need to work on your game. I don’t miss practicing four times a week and waiting five days to play a game.

“I like having games in a rapid fire. If you have a tough game, it’s easier to focus on the next one.”

New generation of players

Green said the new generation of players coming into the league are generally better prepared than in the past.

“I have a 16-year-old that plays hockey,” he said. “These guys are well versed in taking care of themselves.

“Athletes in general now are well ahead of the curve from where they were 10 or 15 years go.”

The Canucks remain in contention to make their first playoff appearance in four years. After going through a streak of winning 14 of 17 games Vancouver has just two wins in the last seven games (2-4-1).

“You can’t think too far ahead,” said Hughes. “Just focus on what you can control. If it’s practice tomorrow, just show up and be ready to go.”

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