Montreal Canadiens prospect Lane Hutson set to make big impact with USA World Junior Team

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PLYMOUTH, Mich. – It seems the biggest theme of the 2022 NHL Draft was finding value.

No team understands that better than the Montreal Canadiens, who selected defenseman Lane Hutson 62nd overall. Many scouts have called him one of the most creative and offensive defensemen in the draft. But at the heart of his game, many were still concerned about his 5ft 9in frame.

His on-ice performance so far has been electric. In 16 games, Hutson has seven goals and 18 points for Boston University, two points ahead of Michigan’s Seamus Casey for the lead in scoring among NCAA Draft+1 defensemen. In fact, they’re the only two with more than six points, and Hutson’s brilliance put him second in scoring at BU. At this point, he’s not only the best defensive rookie, but he’s one of the best starters in the league, period.

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Hutson is having a memorable season. And the hype is real. Canadiens fans have been obsessed with his game this year, which is understandable given the production.

« Some people talk about it, I really don’t watch it too much, but I hear about it from time to time, » Hutson said of the online attention he received. « It’s quite funny. »

Hutson’s freshman season has been temporarily put on hold as the 18-year-old tries to make the U.S. Junior World Championship team. While the final roster hasn’t been named yet, most expect Hutson to play a part in the top two pairings and he worked on the power play mechanics a bit in the practice session. Thursday at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.

Given USA’s depth on the blue line — perhaps the best in the tournament — Hutson needed a strong start to make the side’s roster in the first place. It’s safe to say he nailed that.

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« Obviously (doing the USA list) was always on my mind, but when I’m at BU it’s all about BU, » Hutson said. « And whatever else happens, I’m ready for that. »

Hutson is no stranger to USA Hockey. His 63-point campaign with the United States National Team Development Program is the second all-time by a defenseman in a single season, trailing Cam York by two points and beating Adam Fox and Quinn Hughes. Of all time, York (103) is the only player to have more points than Hutson’s 90. He had over a point per game in every international tournament he entered with the USNTDP and even played in the 2020 Youth Olympics before joining the USNTDP.

So if Hutson ends up staying with the club, expect him to give him every chance to generate an attack from the point. And it also helps that he’s comfortable with the squad: he’s played with the U-18 side in back-to-back seasons, so he’s played with most of the basic players at some point. That includes Casey and Ryan Chesley, with whom he skated last year.

« It’s good to see what these guys look like now, » Hutson said. “Everyone has gotten so much bigger, stronger and better. It was a good challenge to play them in training.

The biggest knock against Hutson is his 5-foot-9 frame, which has been a conversation starter since arriving on the draft scene. At all levels, he was one of the best scorers everywhere he went, which is incredible as a defender. Like Anaheim Ducks prospect Olen Zellweger, Hutson is like a fourth forward, and that’s huge.

NHL Central Scouting listed him at 5-foot-8-and-a-half and 148 pounds heading into the draft. The United States camp roster listed him at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds. A little increase, but not much. However, some have managed to achieve success around this size. For reference, Jared Spurgeon of Minnesota (5-foot-9, 166 pounds) and Torey Krug of St. Louis (5-foot-9, 194 pounds) are two smaller players. Hutson specifically cites Krug as an influence on his game.

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« It’s a concern, of course, » said a scout. “But it is also exaggerated. He has the talent to catch up. There aren’t many defensemen his size in the NHL for a reason, but in the right situation, that might not matter in Hutson’s case.

But it’s one thing to be dominant against college or junior players – the NHL is a whole different ball game. This transition to the next level will be the biggest challenge, but Hutson has time on his side. Physically, a little extra time will serve him exceptionally well. Huston said he’s focused on the current season and hasn’t had any discussions with the Canadiens about next steps. Hutson is focused on his NCAA rookie campaign and WJC Team USA, with the team aiming for gold.

Regarding what he has done to improve his game, Hutson said: « It’s always been about throwing pucks, it’s something I’m always proud to improve at and I have the feel like I’ve improved. Also becoming faster, stronger too.

Hutson’s career is just getting started, but his resume stands out on its own. He’s a defenseman who moves the puck, likes to shoot, create chances and has speed to burn. If he makes the United States – and he certainly should – he will be one of the top scorers in the United States. Luke Hughes will be excellent, and the rest of the roster depth should be enough to carry the load.

Also don’t be surprised if he’s part of the tournament all-star team conversation this year.

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