I had barely taken my seat in the Bell Centre when the Montreal Canadiens quickly made face-off specialist Owen Beck the very first selection outside the first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. With that pick, they had managed to fill an organizational hole, that of an NHL-projectable two-way centreman, which most had already noticed. A hole that had seen most draft outlets project Shane Wright as Montreal’s choice at first overall.
The fact that they now instead took Beck with pick 33 meant that they now had chosen two wingers and a reliable centre with their first three selections. Other than just getting three quality prospects, this also meant that the club could widen its search ever so slightly, and possibly take one or two swings for the fences with a couple of their remaining ten selections.
As we were approaching Montreal’s next draft pick, number 62 overall, I pounded the drum for Kent Hughes & Co. to select Lane Hutson; a skillful but undersized defenceman coming off an impressive season with the United States National Team Development Program.
During his draft year, the 5’8” blue-liner had averaged over a point-per-game, regardless of whether he was playing in the USHL or in the 2022 U18 World Junior Championships. He had also demonstrated a rare ability to glide away from opponents nearly twice his size in a way that I had started to believe may be something worth further exploration.
Hughes and his compadre Jeff Gorton must have heard my inner wishes, crying out for Hutson in a Habs jersey. Here he is now, making his Top 25 Under 25 debut at number 13.
Since Hadi Kalakeche is Habs Eyes on the Prize’s main source of reliable information when it comes to North American prospect scouting, I am happy to see that he was the very highest on Hutson this year, eclipsing Nathan and myself by three spots. Our European prospect reporter provides us with the anchor, being the only one to rank Hutson outside of the top 20.
There’s only one way to solve this: We’ll have to stick Hadi and Pat together in a cage and let them fight this one out, Anchorman-style.
The EOTP community ranked Hutson at 13, which is right where he ended up.
History of #13
Hutson is a sublime playmaker. At least that’s what he has demonstrated at the junior level. This last season, he became the most productive defenceman to ever feature for the USNTDP, narrowly beating out Cam York in terms of PPG.
His combination of brains and sheer vision makes him a dangerous threat from the blue line for any opponent who dares to challenge him. His way of combining these skills with deceptiveness and flair makes him even harder to defend against. Hutson has a way of forcing himself past the opposition one way or another, whether it is through a line-breaking pass or by putting potential forecheckers on their heels through subtle direction changes.
Offence is, and will continue to be, his forte. When it comes to his defensive abilities, he manages to somewhat make up for his slight build by placing himself well to cut off lanes and by staying aware of the positioning of both the puck and remaining players.
Leading up to the draft, Hutson was selected as this year’s recipient of the E.J McGuire Award of Excellence. The award is given out to the draft-eligible player who “best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism”.
There is only one reason why a player with Hutson’s ability was available for the Canadiens to select in the 60s’, and that is his size. Or rather, his lack thereof. Standing at 5’8” and weighing about as much as the average middle-schooler, he will continue to have his doubters in the hockey community until he’s reached the very top.
Heck, there is a reason why the guy brought an excerpt from his endocrinologist with him when he went for interviews with teams pre-draft. He and everyone around him knew that regardless of his skill, most teams are still not ready to bank a high draft pick on a tiny defenceman who is more flashy than he is sturdy.
In terms of more play-related flaws, Hutson can at times become too engaged in the game in a way that makes him want to do everything himself. Instead of relying on the process and letting the game come to him, he can overwork situations and become too eager. This is probably something that can be corrected with coaching as well as experience.
Otherwise, his skating stride could still use a bit of work. That is apparently something he is already addressing by working together with Adam Nicholas, according to our own Hadi Kalakeche’s excellent video scouting report below:
It really is funny in a way. With Logan Mailloux having been selected a year ago, and Hutson being selected this summer, Montreal now has two polar opposites in their pipeline when it comes to offensively gifted defensive prospects.
Mailloux is built like a fridge, big and bulky, with a body like a freight train once he reaches his maximum speed. What’s holding him back, however, is a lack of understanding of how to make the correct reads and right decisions while on the ice. He has all the tools in the world but needs the smarts to put them all together into something valuable.
Just like Cole Caufield, Hutson was never born with that physical advantage that makes a lot of Juniors excel against their peers. Instead, he has had to rely on being far superior in nearly everything else to make up for this deficiency.
He compensates by seemingly having complete awareness of everything that’s going on around him while on the ice. Knowing he’s physically inferior, he rarely puts himself in a position to be outskated or outmatched, simply by reading the game and distributing play.
In terms of pure potential, the Canadiens have very few prospects with a ceiling as high as Hutson’s. The knack on him is that there is very little established practice for a defenceman of this size, however skilled he may be, making it all the way into the NHL.
This year, the minuscule defensive dynamo will face a new challenge as he takes his talents to Beantown and Boston University, where he will become teammates with another Habs hopeful, Luke Tuch.
Hutson has already shown throughout his junior career that he is like a unicorn among bland old horses. If he can continue to rebut the odds and excel in the NCAA, he will eventually get every chance to show that he could be a solution for a Canadiens franchise that for years has been lacking blue line creativity.