We are going to see more and more of the Canadiens choosing to use the NCAA as a development model. In the NCAA there is more of a focus, as well as the time given to practice and develop skills. It also allows players time to develop physically in an environment where they, as student-athletes, are given access to facilities and support staff from nutritionists to medical professionals.
“You play against older guys, stronger guys, and you push yourself a lot harder than in junior hockey. There are a lot of guys you can learn from, guys who know more than you to show you the ropes and carve that path.”Nick Schmaltz
It provides the opportunity for more competition as young players compete against much older players, some as old as 24 years of age. Then there are the coaching systems which rival professional systems. The one area that makes the college route a desirable choice for an NHL club’s prospects is the four years they have to allow for any late bloomers to blossom.
Lane Hutson is an offensive weapon for Boston University. He quarterbacks their power play, launches the transition game and plays with speed. He is the highest-scoring freshman defenseman in Hockey East history with 48 points last season, leading all NCAA defensemen in goals and points.
He has followed that up this season by remaining on that pace (on pace for 49 points over 39 games played) with 14 points in 11 games. His offensive creativity is plain to see. Hutson has been averaging almost 29 minutes per game, proving that he is the backbone of an NCAA championship-contending team.
On this shift, we see his work on some lesser heralded plays that, when done correctly, and with consistency, make a significant impact on the overall flow and outcome of a game.
His mobility and speed as he retreats towards his zone allow him the time to read an emerging play. He sees his opening and then closes the gap. While it was a broken offensive play by Maine, it shows his ability on the defensive side against the rush. Hutson’s mobility strikes again at the other end of the ice on the same shift. This time, as he uses his edges masterfully to reverse direction while along the blue line, creating space for himself. Once without the puck, he identifies a gap on the weak side and settles in to support the cycle. While this shift led to no scoring opportunities, it highlights what Hutson does with regularity, and his ability to play without the puck in a possession-style offensive scheme.
While a little tongue in cheek, the Terriers’ account isn’t wrong, it feels like a year since he hadn’t factored into the scoring.
This is where Hutson is most dangerous, on the power play. Defenders have a hard time marking him as he can hurt them with a pass to the player they leave open, or with a well-placed shot.
He starts down low, as the right side of the 1-3-1 scheme. The PK Unit has to key on Macklin Celebrini as he has an excellent shot. The pass to Hutson and the shift opens some space, as the top of the box has to shift over to mark Celebrini. This leaves Hutson with a shooting lane, and he waits until he can use another defender as a screen before he fires a perfectly placed wrist shot into the far side. Yes, it was a 5-on-3 PP, but given any extra space, be it 5-on-5 or the PP, this is where Hutson will excel.
Being selected by Team USA to play at the 2023 World Championships has done wonders in building his confidence. That, and a Frozen Four appearance, where he played well in both, gave him the blueprint to follow for the next step he was to take. It was also helpful that he was selected to play alongside his brother in representing the United States at the 2023 IIHF in Latvia.
- This play exemplifies the value Tuch has on any team. This is more than just a slick pass to an open Jack Hughes. This one play has several elements that scouts and a coaching staff love to see.
- For a big man, he displayed good speed to cut from along the far boards, get across the rink, and stretch out the defence.
- Then there is the pass reception, he was able to coral the puck, from behind, and under control
- The ability to cut from the outside, along the boards, to the net. All while using his large frame effectively to separate his checker from the puck to the vision displayed to identify the trailer and the hands to make the play.
At 6’2” and 210 pounds, Tuch already has an NHL frame. The gritty two-way winger is relied upon to play a physical style, also has good forecheck skills and wins more puck battles than he loses. Tuch has the type of hard-nosed game that translates into the ideal NHL third-line power forward.
This play, from earlier in the season on Oct 13 2023 against New Hampshire displays his ability to get to the net, and battle for his space. He also has the awareness to track the puck movement at the top of the zone, while it was shot, and in the air for a tip, ending up as a goal.
The expectation for Tuch this season was for him to produce more offence while continuing to play his power-forward style. That style has been used to create space in the offensive zone for his linemates as he causes chaos on the forecheck and by going hard to the net, drawing defenders away from freshman sensation Macklin Celebrini.
Here we see Tuch setting himself up in the slot again. However, on this play, he found a way to stay out of the defender’s peripheral vision, making him all but invisible until it was too late.
He is reliable enough to play on the power play and the penalty kill thanks to his strong skating, mobility, size, and hockey IQ. All of this points to his skills as a complementary forward whose main job will be to create space for his linemates.
BONUS – Macklin Celebrini
I travelled to Boston to catch a few of BU’s games, and while Celebrini was a scratch for the November 10 matchup vs U Mass Lowell, due to “residual soreness”, he did not disappoint when he was dressed for the November 11 game, and second of the back-to-back matchups with Lowell.
In the 6-1 BU victory, Celebrini was shadowed all night, sometimes by two defenders. This limited his shooting opportunities, but he made them pay in many other ways. His playmaking skills are elite, he was able to use his edgework at top speed, and identify open teammates using only his peripheral vision. This vision allowed him to disguise the play he intended to make, forcing defenders to guess what he planned to do, leaving him more than one option to generate a scoring chance.
Defensively, he is capable of battling down low, helping his defencemen, either in a battle along the boards or as an outlet to relieve the pressure on the forecheck. He is positionally sound as well; however, he will need to work on his timing and stick placement in his own zone to allow him to cover more territory without needing to use his feet and save some energy for a counterattack.
He did line up on the wing at times during faceoffs, but that is only when he wasn’t on his strong side, and he returned to center immediately after the puck drop. When he was lined up for a faceoff, he won almost 80% of the draws, and when he didn’t win it cleanly, he was able to battle for the puck or tie up his man. While he does need to add some strength, it isn’t to improve his play, it is to withstand the physical game that will be used to target him, especially at the NHL level. Once he adds that size, it will add the missing aspect to his well-rounded offensive game, and he should be a top-line center in the NHL.