Canadiens prospect Lane Hutson is taking college hockey by storm
Hutson is producing points at an elite level in his freshman season at Boston University.
An elite handful of hockey's best defensemen today once dominated the American collegiate circuit before taking the NHL by storm and cementing themselves as the future of the position.
Within the last half decade, the likes of Cale Makar, Adam Fox and Quinn Hughes have each developed their respective craft in college, then almost seamlessly transitioned to the pros and looked right at home.
Lane Hutson, a freshman at Boston University and a 2022 second-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens, is looking like he's next in line.
The 19-year-old has quickly made a name for himself as one of the most exciting prospects in the sport, registering 38 points in 29 games. His 1.31 points per game average is good enough for seventh in the nation, up there with the likes of 2022 lottery picks Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud.
In his first college hockey season, Hutson is doing things few others have done before. He is a big reason why the Boston University Terriers rank fifth in the country in goals per game (3.9) and total goals scored (117). His 0.97 assists per game rank third in the nation, behind fellow Canadiens prospect Sean Farrell and projected 2023 top-3 pick Adam Fantilli.
Hutson has also cleaned up the slate of individual awards so far this season, earning Hockey East Defender of the Month in October and November, Hockey East Player of the Week and Hockey East Rookie of the Week on two occasions.
#GoHabsGo prospect Lane Hutson. Kid can wheel. pic.twitter.com/iYjyWmvznO
— James Garrison (@JamesGarrison27) October 29, 2022
The first thing you notice when watching Hutson play is his comfort with the puck on his stick. His head is always up, scanning the ice and adjusting his stride to move into space and create chance after chance in both the neutral and offensive zones. Paired with quick hands and elite puck-handling, Hutson is as good as it gets when walking the blue line.
"From the point, he is the NCAA's most dynamic, most effective, most creative activator, because he's able to create advantages for himself," Elite Prospects' Mitchell Brown told Yahoo Sports Canada. "Those fast-twitch hands, the nonstop deception, the quick edges, the changes of pace and direction; he's always deceiving his opponents."
L’espoir du #CH continu d’aligner les points avec Boston U. Samedi: 1 but, 1 passe contre Merrimak
The #CH prospect continues to rack up points with Boston U. Saturday: 1 goal
1 assist against Merrimak#GoHabsgo #NHL @TerrierHockey pic.twitter.com/Lb4El7sIni
— André Ménard (@samuelmj01) February 19, 2023
Hutson's unique skillset makes him a tricky prospect to project at the NHL level, but his play does compare to some of the league's most gifted offensive defensemen. His shiftiness from the point is reminiscent of Hughes, while his ability to move around the offensive zone and pick out a teammate for a scoring chance is a skill mastered by Fox.
His weaker play in transition, however, means he does not yet possess the full skillset expected from a hyper-mobile top defensemen like Hughes and Fox.
Lane Hutson updated card.
*Credit; https://t.co/lOEzAa8eer pic.twitter.com/W8pwmmwN8C
— Knievel (@fellachance) February 16, 2023
Brown is confident Hutson's ceiling in the NHL is as a No. 1 offensive defenseman. Much of that, though, will depend on how the 19-year-old develops his skating and strength to make him a threat in all three zones of the ice.
"It will come down to how much the skating improves, getting a stronger, deeper stance to absorb contact and being able to really sell all that shiftiness from the point," Brown said. "A lot of what he does is very quick edges, being very evasive and fast, rather than big, slower, more convincing movements because he can't do them yet because he can't access his outside edges in those ways."
With how good he's been right off the bat at the collegiate level, many hockey fans were surprised Hutson was only the 62nd-overall pick of the 2022 NHL Draft. Brown, however, expected the diminutive blueliner to fly under the radar.
"At Elite Prospects, we had him 47th overall. Unfortunately, I think that he went in the late second was not surprising," he explained. "It was not a consequence of his size; it was more a consequence of the skating and that his game tended to rely on the same patterns, which has turned out to not be an issue in college."
Despite his high-end skill being evident early as he tore up the United States National Team Development Program, scouts were reluctant to project him going too high in the draft due to his 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame. Ideally, the modern NHL defenseman is a smooth skater, but also big enough to handle the physical side of the game. While it's highly unlikely he will grow to become a towering figure, he has reportedly added a few inches to his height since he enrolled at Boston University, now listed at 5-foot-10 by the program.
It's likely Hutson would have been selected higher in the draft had he been taller, but as The Athletic's Scott Wheeler puts it, the shifty defenseman is as effective as he is because of his short stature.
"I’ve often been asked just how high he would have gone if he were 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 and the reality is that he wouldn’t able to do a lot of what makes him so interesting if he were," Wheeler wrote. "He’s a unique player who uses a light (though not powerful) stride to create entries and exits, weave past coverage, escape pressure, and find or create seams."
Hutson has starred — and produced — at every level he's played at so far in his young career. He registered a total of 90 points over two years with the USNTDP, good enough for fourth all-time for defensemen, ahead of former standouts like Fox and Hughes. The Michigan native also tallied four points in seven games at the 2023 World Juniors as the United States took home the bronze medal. He's now tearing up the NCAA's Hockey East conference, and is poised to put up big numbers in the NHL one day if he continues on this trajectory.
"This guy could be a top-end point-producing defenseman in the NHL, with a ton of highlights along the way," Brown said. "So, not a bad player."
No, not bad at all.
Stats as of Feb. 24