Let’s get it out of the way right from the start. Lane Hutson is not a big man. Standing at 5’8” and weighing around 160 lbs as a defenceman, he will have many doubters right from the start. But then again, those doubts are hardly new to him. So far he has managed to conquer his challenges admirably, ultimately resulting in him being the 62nd overall selection in the 2022 NHL Draft.
This year, Hutson was one of the leading men on another impressive vintage of the US National Team Development Program, leading all blue-liners with 63 points — 53 of them assists — in 60 games. With that, he became the first defenceman to eclipse a point-per-game since 2019 14th overall selection Cam York did so back in his draft year.
Only bad luck, and a Hugo Hävelid playing the game of his life, stopped him from guiding Team USA to a gold medal in the U18 World Junior Championships in April, which naturally would have been the cherry on top of his draft season. Still, he had eight assists over six games played and was presented with the award for Best Defenceman after the tournament concluded.
So, as you can see and hear from all of these assists, it is a playmaking defenceman we’re talking about here. This leads us into a discussion surrounding both his perks and flaws as a current prospect. His vision is terrific, and his small but compact body helps him move around the ice with ease, dishing out passes to the left, right, and center like it was second nature to him. He plays a smart game, revolving a lot around deception and being able to trick opposing forecheckers in one direction before turning back over and choosing to go in another direction with an opening pass or a transitional move up the ice.
Apart from the size concerns, scouts and analysts have mentioned concerns surrounding Hutson’s shot neither being as powerful nor as accurate as one would have wanted from a potential power-play threat. Also, his skating mechanics are not nearly as fluid as most would have liked, especially with him being undersized. He has been able to work around that by outsmarting opponents and by being shifty, but that’s at the junior level.
The Montreal Canadiens ended yesterday’s haul with two Slovakian wingers and one Kirby Dach added while retracting a couple of their fourteen draft picks as well as a left-handed defenceman.
With young left-handed defencemen being one of the strengths of the Habs prospect pool, Montreal’s front office obviously felt an opportunity to deal from a position of strength and then circle back to it with both this pick and the later selection of Adam Engström. Now, neither Hutson nor Engström are by any means direct replacements for Alexander Romanov. Instead, Hutson fills a different hole in the team’s fountain of youth, that of an offensively skilled defenceman who can operate a power play.
For years, we have witnessed the Montreal power play with dismay as they can’t get any long-lasting pressure and instead end up circling back to Shea Weber for a — with years increasingly inaccurate — slapshot. They need more weapons that can keep the puck in the offensive zone and create different intriguing looks. This selection is a sign that the Canadiens' front office sees what we see and chooses to swing for the fences with the upside of a small, but significant, offensive contributor.
Being four selections, and a Kirby Dach trade, into this draft, it’s starting to become clear that Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis value hockey players who are smart and determined. Everyone will have flaws to overcome at this point, especially being selected outside the top ten, so the question becomes what the players, and Montreal, want to do to take that next step development-wise.
There is a common perception that big players should be held higher in regard come draft time because you need size to win in the NHL. Although I understand that sentiment, there is also a possibility that a 6’5” guy who is drafted out of a junior league was only dominant due to his superior physique and that the dominance will vanish once he’s put on a rink full of similarly sized guys who are more experienced and sly than him.
With smaller guys they have, at the very least, never held that advantage. Guys like Hutson, or Cole Caufield for that matter, have always been small. Thus, they have already had to overcome substantial obstacles to even make it to the USNTDP. To then excel in an environment filled with the highest regarded talents in the USA, as well as on an international stage against your peers from the other highly regarded junior programs around the world, shows a lot about a young player’s commitment.
To further exemplify this, Hutson became the winner of the 2022 E.J McGuire Award of Excellence. The trophy is awarded to the draft-eligible player who “best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism”.
Hutson is not going to be a contributor on the Canadiens' blue line this season. Instead, he will take his talents to Boston University, where he will team up with another Habs second-round selection and USNTDP graduate, physical winger Luke Tuch.
That Montreal now gets to thoroughly watch and closely develop a player with such attractive skills as Hutson for four years can turn out to be crucial, since his game is certainly due some overall refinement. The fact remains, however, that the Canadiens were able to add an undersized, but offensively tantalizing American with high character to their ranks. Considering how it turned out when the team made such a selection in 2019, I think we should all be pretty excited about this.