In the build up to the 2022 NHL Draft, one of the more interesting players to me was an undersized, dynamic, transitional defenceman from the US National Program.

Lane Hutson was around 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds that spring. His size was something teams could have been shy about and he recognized it could impact his draft ranking.

So, Hutson came to the combine in Buffalo armed with science. He had an endocrinologist study his bone age to show where he was in his growth cycle. He wanted teams to know he was still getting taller, and that he would work hard to add sufficient strength and weight to someday become an NHL defenceman.

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Hutson averaged over a point per game for the USNTDP in his draft year. The team was a juggernaut, with eight players selected in the top two rounds of the NHL Draft, including five in the first round. But Hutson played a large part in the team’s success and named the top defenceman at the U18 World Championships.

I was excited to see which NHL team would step up to take this talent.

Eventually it was the Montreal Canadiens who called Hutson to the floor with the 62nd overall pick. Today, Hutson is listed at 5-foot-10 and 162 pounds, and has the potential to be a future power play quarterback and relentless competitor for the Canadiens.

On Thursday night, Hutson’s Boston University team was eliminated from the NCAA Frozen Four in a 2-1 overtime loss against Denver. With his sophomore season at BU finished, Hutson will now embark on his pro career after signing his entry-level with Montreal Friday.

Hutson has long been one of my favourite prospects to scout. But the NHL is the best league in the world. Is he ready for the challenge at 20 years old? What can Canadiens fans expect to see from Hutson, both now and in the future?

SCOUTING REPORT

Hutson’s primary ice time came at even strength and the power play at BU. Since Christmas he was playing between 22 and 26 minutes per game.

Here’s my scouting on Hutson, including this year’s statistics and his historical stats dating back to the 2021-22 season:

Elite Element

In order for a prospect to project well into the pro game they have to tick off three important boxes for me:

1. The player has to present the ability to skate at NHL pace.

2. The player has to be able to “think” the game quickly and responsibly.

3. There aren’t any easy days in the NHL. Relentless compete is a requirement.

Once these three areas have been identified, the prospect’s skill attributes take over.

In Hutson’s case, he’s always been a player who ticked off all three of those boxes for me. The overall skill and will he presents is elite, but it’s his playmaking ability on offence that stands out.

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Here are some examples showing Hutson’s strengths as an offensive player.

The first clip provides several examples of how Hutson distributes the puck, moves to open space to create scoring chances, and regroups to extend plays in the offensive zone:


Hutson sees the ice very well. In the next clip he slides through the back door seam and makes a small play in the middle of the ice. When his initial effort doesn’t result in a quality opportunity, he pounces on the puck again, takes the play from low to high, changes his angle of attack and distributes a pass that leads to a goal:


Some players are hard to defend and contain in open ice. Hutson is one of those players.

It’s clear that Hutson’s elite elements include his skating, vision, and overall playmaking ability. He has a chance to be a difference maker offensively at the NHL level.

Zone Entry

It’s widely recognized the NHL game has turned into a track meet, especially in the regular season. The play is quicker and faster than ever and advantages can be found in moving with speed and control through the zones.

Hutson has the ability to escape pressure in his own zone, outlet the puck accurately, and then join the rush as an extra layer. And if necessary, he’s also not shy about leading the rush on his own when time and space presents itself.


Defending

The biggest challenge for Hutson at the next level will come on the defensive side of the ledger.

I’m not concerned about Hutson’s size. He’s a crafty defender who jumps to space effectively before bigger opponents engage, and he kills the majority of the defensive zone entries in his lane by being active with his legs and stick.

Having said that, the NHL game will present different challenges. The best players in the world are bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than anything Hutson has faced so far.

Hutson can’t afford to stop moving his feet, or have any delays in his reads and reactions. Here’s an example of a play where he wasn’t “on time” defending his blue line:


Mistakes are bound to happen and turnovers can occur when teammates mishandle the puck. There will be times when Hutson’s defensive partner will get caught out of position and he’ll have to defend odd-man rushes against alone.

It’s never easy being put on the spot having to defend a 2-on-1 break from the centre red line. The following clip illustrates an adjustment that Hutson will likely make when he gets to the NHL level.


Projection

I try not to scout with a bias. It’s dangerous to be too hard on a prospect who’s still developing, or conversely provide them with too many accolades when discussing their offensive upside.

But Lane Hutson has always stood out when I’ve viewed him live or on tape for his skill and determination. He leads by example with his work ethic and makes plays offensively that most prospects aren’t programmed to make. His size isn’t an issue. He will fit in fine with the way the NHL game is played today, but it will take time for him to get acclimated.

Projection: Top four NHL transitional defenceman. Likely second pairing at even strength and power play quarterback.





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