The Vancouver Canucks are in the midst of a youth movement. So, let’s take a look at the club’s top youngsters!
If the Vancouver Canucks want to make their ‘rebuild on the fly’ work, they need a strong foundation of young roster players. We all know the Bo Horvats and Ben Huttons of the team, but what’s after that? How are things for the AHL Utica Comets and what can we expect from the Canucks’ next crop of youngsters?
To answer those questions, our staff ranked all signed Vancouver Canucks players under the age of 25. After compiling a list of the top 10 Canucks prospects recently, this is all about who can help today. And guess what, the Canucks only have a total of 26 players under 25 signed and playing in North America right now.
In the second-last entry in this series, we look at sophomore defenseman Ben Hutton.
#2 – Ben Hutton
Team: Vancouver Canucks
NHL Experience: 75 Games
How He Got Here
After watching Ben Hutton break into the NHL as a 22-year-old defenseman, you might be surprised to learn that Hutton is fairly new to his position.
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As he told Derek Jory in 2012, Hutton did not play defense until he was a teenager. Hutton volunteered to switch from left wing when sis major midget team was short a blue liner. He and his coaches soon discovered that the position suited him, so Hutton started playing full-time as a defenseman.
Hutton played Junior hockey with the Kemptville 73’s of the CCHL. In his second year with the team he served as an alternate captain, and also led the 73’s in scoring. Midway through the following season, he was traded to the Nepean Raiders. He set another career high in points, 42, and added 13 points in 18 playoff games with Nepean, including an overtime winner.
In 2012, the Vancouver Canucks drafted him in the fifth round. Hutton played three years with the University of Maine in the NCAA. In all three of those years, he led the team in points by a defenseman.
Where He Is Today
To begin last season, few fans knew much about Hutton. Perhaps we should have taken notice sooner; but then again, Hutton’s play for the Vancouver Canucks last season even surprised general manager Jim Benning.
Most people expected Hutton to tail off as the year wore on; he did waver at times, but he never faltered.
In the end, he played the second-most games of any defensemen this season, as Chris Tanev, Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Luca Sbisa all missed significant time. Even better, Hutton led Vancouver’s defense in points. To end the year, Canucks fans voted him the team’s best defenseman.
Not all of his numbers are so flattering though — there is Hutton’s minus-21 statistic, for instance. As is expected for all first-year defensemen, Hutton did have some struggles in his own zone.
On the other hand, all of the top-four defensemen for the Vancouver Canucks ended the year as a minus. The Canucks finished the year dead last in goal differential, so Hutton is hardly to blame here. Only a handful of Canucks players were lucky enough to sport a positive plus-minus.
Most of us expected Ben Hutton to play for the Utica Comets last season. Instead, he ended up being the Canucks best offensive defenseman. Needless to say, expectations are high for the smiling 23 year-old as he enters his second NHL season.
Where He’s Headed
With the departures of Hamhuis and Matt Bartkowski, Hutton is expected to skate on the second pairing with newcomer Erik Gudbranson. But it might be too much to expect Ben Hutton to grow by leaps and bounds in his second season.
Fans need only look at Bo Horvat’s sophomore season to see some of the difficulties Hutton will face this year. The Canucks, for better or worse, will be leaning on Hutton in the defensive zone. Hutton still needs to elevate his defensive game to a consistent NHL standard, so it’s fair to expect some growing pains as he makes the adjustment.
Yet Hutton exceeded all expectations last year; maybe he can do it again this year.
Until he and Gudbranson skate together it is hard to predict how good the pairing will be. Gudbranson, for his part, was the go-to shutdown defenseman for the Florida Panthers before being traded. His experience may help steady Hutton in his own zone, while Hutton can help Gudbranson transition the puck up the ice.
Defensively, we’ll just have to wait and see how effective Hutton can be this season.
Offensively, though, there is a good chance that Hutton will lead the Canucks defensemen in points again, simply because the Canucks have few more reliable point producers in the top-four. Alex Edler could challenge him, but Edler is usually playing the toughest minutes in the defensive zone.
Hutton might also be the Canucks best blue-line option for the top powerplay unit. If he sees significant powerplay time, he could easily increase his point total considerably from last season. The Canucks would certainly welcome that, particularly if he can score more goals.
There is little doubt that Ben Hutton will be an excellent two-way defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks for years to come. The only question is how soon he will make the transition. The team and the fans are hoping he can do it this year.