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Catching The Torch: Lane Hutson continues to shatter records, Logan Mailloux’s progression, and more

A progress assessment of the Habs’ prospects heading into March — namely Lane Hutson, Logan Mailloux, and Filip Mešár.

Boston University v Providence College Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

As March rolls on and prospects near the end of their regular seasons, I thought it relevant to review some of the names in the Montreal Canadiens system and how their game has evolved since last year.

We’ll start with the most exciting name in the prospect pool, and one of the most exciting defencemen outside of the NHL.

Lane Hutson, LD — Boston University Terriers (Hockey East, NCAA)

Hutson’s progression has been nothing short of exceptional. The undersized offensive defenceman has now finished his rookie season for the Terriers, who have qualified for the Hockey-East playoffs with Hutson playing a major part in their success.

Second on the team in scoring and their top producing blue-liner, Hutson was BU’s most electrifying player on a nightly basis, despite playing second string to 23-year-old captain Domenick Fensore.

Impressively, playing on the second pair and often on the second power-play unit, the freshman managed to lead all NCAA defencemen in scoring with 43 points in 33 games. As of this writing, he is tied for 11th league-wide in scoring if we include forwards.

His 1.3 points-per-game pace and 43 points overall are both 30-year records. As far back as 1990-91, no other defenceman has managed the production rate of the 62nd-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Beyond the data, Hutson has clearly improved his game in specific areas that benefit his skill set. Primarily, the diminutive defenceman’s involvement in offensive rushes has increased. Where he previously earned most of his points off the cycle, activating from the blue line and making plays down low, he now creates and activates from deep within his zone.

He jumpstarts rushes with a stretch pass, follows his pass with a burst of newfound speed and acceleration, and readies his stick as he crosses the offensive blue line to receive a pass and skate in as the fourth forward. He’ll even carry the puck the whole way himself with his usual blend of body fakes and inside-out moves.

He has added some more deceptiveness to an already-elusive game, as evidenced by the sequence above. Until the very last moment, nothing about Hutson’s body language on this fake indicates that he’s going right. Until the moment he pulls the trigger on that last handle, the forechecker in front of him has every indication to angle left on him. Hutson plays into that, and attacks his heels at the last second.

Hutson has also honed his craft when it comes to picking his moments. He almost never overdoes it anymore and doesn’t release the puck too early or too late, which was sometimes the case in his draft year.

Beyond that, his acceleration and top speed have improved. His skating posture is slowly but surely heading in the right direction.

That means his defending is bound to follow suit. Hutson’s main issue isn’t defensive awareness; he knows what’s going on, and anticipates threats. The issue has always been his skating; his feet just can’t keep up. If a player is fast enough or has a large enough wingspan, they get around him effortlessly. This is still a concern, but it’s a lot less glaring than it was last year with the NTDP, despite the tremendous jump in competition level and in his opponents’ physical maturity.

With the progress Hutson has shown in his game over the past 12 months and his unprecedented NCAA production rate, any concern of him fizzling out and not being able to replicate his Junior success against pros is waning. There is more than enough reason to be excited about this prospect.

Logan Mailloux, RD — London Knights (OHL)

I wanted to wait, get a larger sample size of viewings and give Mailloux some time to settle into his role with the Knights before reporting on his progression. At 10 games watched and 51 games played on the season, I think we’ve reached that point.

Firstly, let’s look at the raw production. With 47 points in those 51 games, Mailloux sits fourth among 2021-drafted defencemen and eighth overall. He is tied for second in goals and is frequently used on the power play due to his heavy and accurate release — both on wristers and slapshots.

He has flashed some impressive skill as well, venturing down from the point to drive the net on multiple occasions, especially on the power play and in overtime. He even scored a Michigan recently against the Erie Otters, a move which requires an insane amount of dexterity and hand-eye coordination, along with the offensive confidence to venture below the goal line and attempt the move as a blue-liner.

The areas of his game which are strengths — his shot, his skating, his handling skill and his physical play — have continued to be staples in the OHL as he nears the end of his Junior career. However, with Mailloux, the on-ice concerns have always been twofold, dating back to his draft year: defending and hockey sense.

In those areas, there hasn’t been much progress. He continues to manage one-on-one situations well due to his wingspan and skating, and that area of his game has even improved with the added physical maturity. But as soon as defensive situations complexify, a switch in coverage off the cycle or a second threat off the rush, things still break down quickly.

His decision-making with the puck continues to be a concern. He will pass up give-and-go opportunities in favour of attempting a net-drive through a sea of opponents, will relinquish possession with easily identifiable pressure outlets, and overall rarely identifies the most effective play to make. There are sequences, both offensively and defensively, where his lack of pre-scanning makes him seem utterly lost. The scanning needs to come along, as there are few NHL defencemen who don’t always shoulder-check before their retrievals.

Francis Bouillon, former Canadiens defenceman and current development coach, believes Mailloux is the organization’s most promising defence prospect, and thinks the young blue-liners has a chance to make the Habs’ roster next year. With a thinning blue line with a dire need for right-handed shooters capable of playing on the man advantage, the odds are stacked in his favour. However, some improvements are definitely required to make him a net-positive impact player in the NHL.

Filip Mešár, C/RW — Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Mešár has had a difficult time adapting to his new environment in the OHL. After posting 16 points in 37 professional games for HK Poprad in the Slovak top tier and the Habs calling his name in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft, Mešár came close to sticking in the AHL, but was sent down to Kitchener after one game with the Laval Rocket.

The Rangers were in the midst of a major coaching and management overhaul, and this hurt the team’s performance greatly. Mešár currently sits at 42 points in 43 OHL games, on a roster that has only two players scoring better than a point per game and is only six spots from dead last in the league.

On an individual level, there hasn’t been much growth in Mešár’s game. He remains a quick, elusive skater with great off-puck movement and a playmaking streak, who shows flashes of defensive ability but lacks almost any physicality.

The only real difference in his game has been the added ability to absorb hits. He still avoids physical scenarios at all costs, but when it becomes inevitable, he is capable of taking a hit and staying on his feet by lowering his centre of gravity.

It might take a bit more time to see Mešár show some progress in his overall game, as he adapts to the North American style and gets comfortable in Junior hockey. Right now, he is still in the adaptation stage, but a move to a team that has a set idea of where it’s going and what it wants from Mešár is imperative to his success. Kitchener isn’t the right team to bring out the best of the Habs’ first-round pick at the moment.

Mešár is a pro player’s brain stuck inside of a Junior player’s body. He needs a team that recognizes that, and has the tools to leverage it.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for more on Habs’ prospects, and to keep up with the rest of my scouting work!