Now four years into his NHL career with the Canucks, Ben Hutton’s future is at a standstill. Playing for a franchise in transition that is trying to find players that will be part of their future success, Hutton might be referred to as a former Canuck sooner rather than later.
At 26-years-old, the defenceman is on the other side of the player with potential hill. He has enough NHL minutes to show exactly the type of defenceman he is, whether that be one that can contribute on a good team is still unseen.
He struggled in the 2017-18 season, but was able to slightly bounce back from the unfortunate year to play the most hockey he has since joining the Canucks. Averaging almost a whole two minutes more than his previous career-high, Hutton was on display this past season for an average of 22:21 per game.
Mostly out of necessity, the Canucks blue line heavily featured him and the results were poor. While Hutton was on the ice at even-strength, the Canucks had 46.4 percent of the shot attempts, without him they were only able to hold a 47.9 percent of shot attempts. Not a massive difference between the two, but they were still worse at getting the puck towards the net with him on the ice.
There could be loads of potential factors that signal for an upcoming breakout season, but the surrounding players around the defenceman is not one of them.
His most common defensive partner was Erik Gudbranson (553:52), so it’s justifiable to be hemmed in your own zone the whole time of the game. But besides the now-Pittsburgh Penguin, Hutton played with most of the talent the 2018-19 Canucks had to offer.
Troy Stecher and Gudbranson essentially split Hutton’s time — the former playing 514:01 with him during the season — so there is no real balance when it comes to evaluating Hutton’s defensive ability. For the forwards that Hutton was on the ice with, Bo Horvat (396:10), Brock Boeser (310:13), and Elias Pettersson (287:34), all saw significant time with the defenceman.
When he was on the ice with either of those three forwards, Hutton’s shot attempt numbers saw a massive jump. Without them, the Canucks were struggling to get even a decent share of the puck — contributing to his -2.7 CF% relative to his teammates.
Regardless of his past performance, Hutton’s presence on this blue line might be even more out of necessity than production.
The Canucks currently have five defenceman signed on their NHL roster — Tanev, Hughes, Stecher, Biega, and Brisebois — and the only one with a contract past next year is Hughes on his entry-level contract. Hutton is currently a restricted free agent in need of a contract, but with his arbitration rights in hand, he might be able to get a one-year deal just slightly north of his $2.8-million AAV from his last deal.
Especially with the Canucks as a possible destination for one all-star Swedish defenceman, paying a minimum of his $2.8-million a year might be a hefty portion to take on this team for a middling player.
David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period had a radio hit earlier on Saturday, with his many connections with agents across the league, this can be taken with a grain of salt. But he had important news for what the Canucks might be looking to do this summer.
Other notes from this radio hit: VAN big game hunting for D – not Subban because they don't like his attitude, noise that Laine doesn't want to be in WPG – going to look at his options, including offersheet, DAL/NYI/NYR going to look at Karlsson, NYI/LA going to be in on Panarin
— James (@Account4hockey) June 1, 2019
Whatever big game hunting could entail is beyond everyone, but if they’re looking to bring in a defenceman that would take up a large portion of their remaining cap space as well as the ice-time, Hutton might be heading out of Vancouver.
No matter who they bring in, Hutton is now in a position that he’s blocking significant development time for some defencemen. But at this point, if management views that Hughes isn’t ready to play a ton of minutes and Olli Juolevi or another young blueliner isn’t quite ready for the NHL, then why not keep Hutton?
There will be significant decisions made in the near future for what the 2019-20 Canucks defenceman group will look like. If veterans like Tanev and Edler end up leaving, then Hutton could provide some safety net with some actual NHL experience, but if they return, then the 26-year-old would be viewed as a player blocking Hughes for some more ice-time.
A lot of moving parts that can determine the player’s future.
His time as a prospect is gone — Ben Hutton has shown what he can bring on an NHL level and it’s not worth it if other more important players are still in Vancouver. Where he is next season will depend on other moves being made, but for all we know he will stay in a limited role as a balance between the two options.
In the next month or so, the picture will become much clearer and we will see where Hutton lies with this management team.
Read also: The pros and cons of trading Ben Hutton (Stephan Roget)