Vancouver Canucks prospect Ben Hutton, a defenseman who recently completed his collegiate career with the University of Maine Black Bears, has been on a fascinating development track since being drafted in the fifth-round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
With immense offensive upside and plus skating ability, Hutton had an extremely successful collegiate career. The defender with the tantalizing offensive skill set parlayed this success into an entry-level contract towards the end of his last campaign with the Black Bears, and even had a cup of coffee in the AHL with the Utica Comets down the home stretch.
Some would consider the 2014-15 season a plateau in Hutton’s development. The deeper one digs though, the more positives there are to unearth. Hutton checks in at 14 in our organizational prospect ranking.
Any disillusionment in Hutton’s development is driven, primarily, by a marked decline in his offensive production during his junior season. Given that Hutton’s plaudits are exclusive to his play in the offensive zone, this angst isn’t entirely unfounded.
Ben Hutton has fallen in production this year and it appears to be the result of two issues. The first is that Maine is near the bottom of their conference, while last year they were a middling team. The second is that Ben Hutton’s shooting percentage has dropped to 6.3 percent. In 28 games this year Hutton has 5 goals and 9 assists, while he is still shooting at an elite rate of 2.82 shots/game, even more impressive considering he is a defencemen.
As is often the case when a player’s production spikes ,Hutton was exceedingly lucky during the 2013-14 campaign, and then his subsequent season proved much less fortuitous. Still, Hutton was the sixth highest scoring member of the Black Bears and posted the second most shots over the course of the campaign. The Black Bears were a considerably worse team last season than they were the season prior, by both record and by the underlying metrics. Featuring in a prominent role on the Bears first pairing, it still appears as though Hutton more than carried his weight.
Hutton’s flirted with 3 shots-per-game over the course of his last two seasons. A number that high would be gaudy for a forward, but for a defenceman it’s just unheard of.
Just to be sure though, I reached out to ESPN’s Corey Pronman to hear his thoughts on Hutton’s last season. He had this to say…
“[Hutton] has never really been a world killer as a prospect… this year showed some stagnation in terms of his play after being a top player in his conference two seasons ago. Good skating/skill combo, but one expects [Hutton] to have a long adjustment period defensively to the pace and talent level of the AHL. For now he’s a fringe NHL prospect, but we’ll see how he does in his first full season at Utica.”
When looking at the PCS model for charting prospect development, Hutton is – interestingly enough – compared to Willie Mitchell in his last campaign, among others. As I’ve gone at great length to outline so far, Hutton’s game might be the antithesis to that of Mitchell.
Having not seen nearly as much tape on Hutton as I would like, my observations should be taken with a grain of salt. In keeping with this, I’ve tempered them greatly with that of some of the opinions of some of the more respected scouts in the industry.
The most commonly lauded trait to Hutton’s game is his ability to push play in the right direction. He’s carried the burden of top-pairing defender nicely in Maine and has done so primarily using his first pass to drive play away from his net. His offensive ability is top notch, with flashes from his past as a forward often coming to light in the form of plays well below the oppositions hashmarks.
Of course, as is often the case, especially with offensively-inclined defenders and doubly so in this age group, his defensive game is considered raw and in need refinement.
Next season should be Hutton’s first full campaign with the Comets, though there will be considerable competition for jobs on the left side of the Utica blue line. A lanky defender, Hutton is likely to – at the very least – start the campaign on the Comets third pairing.
As I highlighted earlier, Hutton has already spent time with Utica, suiting up with the Comets for a four game stretch near the end of the season. In the first of these games Hutton showcased his offensive prowess with a goal on a rush into the offensive zone.
There’s a very legitimate case to be made that Hutton in the best defensive prospect the Canucks have; particularly with Frankie Corrado effectively graduating and Adam Clendenning now in Pittsburgh. His stick-work is highly impressive and when watching Hutton play, one can’t help but notice that he’s making plays and in positions that a defender just shouldn’t be in- for better and sometimes for worse. There’s a very unique skill set here and with a little refinement, it’s not outlandish to expect him to be showcasing those skills in the NHL before long.