THE BREAKDOWN: Lane Hutson
November 12, 2022
By Grant McCagg
Lane Hutson has done nothing to temper the enthusiasm of Habs fans with his play so far this college season.
Hutson wowed fans with his performance at the Habs development camp in July and he’s doing the same thing now. Hutson has three goals and ten points in his first eight NCAA games, and sits tied for 18th overall in points per game (1.25), which is second-best among all NCAA defencemen. As a freshman!
How does he do it?
Here are 100+ video clips that demonstrate why Hutson is already one of the more dangerous defencemen in college just eight games into his career. He is super-skilled, smart and brimming with confidence.
We know all about Hutson’s offensive abilities and high IQ. The question mark for him will always be how well he can defend at the pro level. That was a major focus of my video studying, and while Hutson won’t become a shutdown NHL defenceman, he hasn’t been exposed as a defensive liability at the NCAA level yet, and he played against some strong teams, including Michigan, UMass-Lowell and UConn.
Boston University 2 UMass-Lowell 1 (OT)
I started my scouting with his last game versus 18th-ranked UMass-Lowell. Hutson scored both goals in a 2-1 BU win, including the OT winner.
The first three clips I saw were in his defensive zone, and he fared quite well in puck battles. It’s not always the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog, and Hutson has already shown that he won’t be intimidated by larger NCAA opponents:
Okay…so he can defend. How about his skating in a straight line without the puck? It may not be the prettiest with his stick and arms swinging rather wildly but Hutson’s quickness gets him where he needs to get, and once he has the puck…then it’s nothing if not pretty. He has impressive agility:
Montreal has long been searching for a power-play quarterback, and Hutson is already shredding defences at the collegiate level when his team has the man advantage. He is adept at finding shooting lanes and open teammates thanks to his vision, agility and puck skills:
The Canadiens have some talented young defencemen on the club this season but none of them are elite puck carriers. Logan Mailloux and Hutson both bring that element to their games:
Elite puck-carrying defencemen can be guilty of being too fancy and hanging onto the puck too long as Montreal witnessed for a number of years with PK Subban. So far in college, Hutson is moving pucks quickly to open teammates when the situation calls for it. Here are three smart passes he made early in his game versus UMass-Lowell:
Hutson’s one-on-one defending is pretty solid thanks to his mobility and confidence. Look at the close gap in the second clip – it’s rare for a freshman defenceman to be that confident in his skating ability to step up and make the play that quickly:
There’s a mixture of positive elements in these three defensive clips. Hutson doesn’t back down from a puck battle – he goes as quickly as he can into the corner to retrieve the puck, and he usually fares pretty well. He is adept at establishing position – he can get underneath and use his leverage to win physical battles and end up with the puck. Quick, crafty and determined:
Hutson is one step ahead of most of his colleagues mentally, and that’s what helps make him an elite talent. As the puck is heading to him, Hutson is looking for an open teammate, and he hits him with a bullet pass as soon as the puck hits his stick:
This is one of my favourite clips from this bunch. Hutson quarterbacks the power play with several smart passes, then heads back into his own corner to jostle with a 6-2, 201-pound, 23-year-old senior. Reminds me of Caufield winning a puck battle with 6-8 dman Tyler Myers last game:
Here are two quasi-turnovers from Hutson – neither egregious nor poor decisions.
Hutson finds the passing lanes and sometimes puts them in a spot where a teammate can receive them on a carom. Perfect placement on this pass to avoid it being intercepted:
Hutson doesn’t back away from a physical battle in college so far, and that will endear him to the Canadiens. As he told Recrutes in an interview in late summer: “When I step on the ice I feel like everyone’s the same size. It’s not how big you are, it’s how hard you play the game and how you approach it.” Indeed:
The word I keep coming up with to describe Hutson with the puck is “jitterbug”. He’s here, he’s there, he’s everyf’ingwhere.:
Intelligent read by Hutson to see the player coming up on his left and not overcommitting to the puck carrier. He defended that perfectly:
Hutson isn’t easy to beat one-on-one. He reads the play so well, his feet are so quick, and he is persistent:
Another shift where Hutson showed a bit of everything – smarts, defending, competitiveness, skating, and bravery:
There were a lot of UMass-Lowell players getting their ankles x-rayed after this game. Hutson has unreal edges and dekes. Visions of Hutson making cuts like these and then finding Caufield in his sweet spot don’t seem very far-fetched or far away:
This kid is a winner. Makes the great read at the blueline to force the puck carrier, then makes two outstanding plays along the blueline to keep it in and eventually score:
Hutson’s peripheral vision is yet another reason why he is a force on the power play. He is constantly creating scoring chances:
Hutson ended the game with a timely rush in overtime.
Michigan 9 Boston University 2
Hutson’s first big test in college hockey was Oct. 14 versus Michigan. It did not go well for the Terriers or Hutson, who ended the game without a point and -3. The expectation was that I’d see a game where Hutson was overwhelmed by Michigan’s power and size in his own end. He had a couple of shifts where he was hemmed in his own zone but he was certainly not the cause of Michigan’s dominance. Hutson did not commit many errors and was certainly not intimidated.
In Huston’s very first shift he displayed his elusiveness in Michigan’s own zone against a Wolverines team that attacked him pretty vociferously. He ended the shift getting clocked pretty hard but bounced right back up. Luckily – you rarely see him getting knocked down:
Michigan’s game plan obviously included pressuring Hutson, and on his very next shift, he took a heavy wallop while attempting to clear the zone. The puck got turned over but that wasn’t on him – his left winger should have been on the wall supporting him for a pass instead of being right beside him:
Michigan came in waves but Hutson kept his gaps close and stayed aggressive in his defending on this rush:
Hutson had a great opportunity to open the scoring in this game by joining the rush and being in alone. He showed good hustle in closing the gap on the Michigan forward who ended up on a breakaway at the end of this clip:
Hutson has no qualms about being the first player in the corner to take a hit to make a play:
Hutson intercepts the pass, pivots quickly and sends a perfect backhand pass to an open winger. Great hands on this play:
Hutson has to make opponents jittery when he’s in the offensive zone. The constant fakes make it impossible to know his game plan. He also makes a lot of smart outlet passes in his own zone, as he did at the end of this shift.
I keep envisioning a day when Hutson is making these smart outlet passes to the likes of Caufield, Suzuki and Slafkovsky. He is extremely effective in transition.
Hutson plays 2-on-1 rushes extremely well. He rarely gets caught leaning the wrong way:
Here is a rare shift where I saw multiple miscues from Hutson. He turned the puck over along the wall but in his defence, he should have had a teammate there supporting him as there was no one on the opposite wall to pass it to either. Then he lost his check at the side of the net and it resulted in a goal against. What we don’t see from Hutson are glaring errors, and that will always endear him to his coaches:
Hutson is always looking to jump into the play in the offensive zone at the right moment. He is a defenceman but he wants to score goals, and that will one day be a welcome addition to a Montreal blueline that has long had a “defence first” mentality. the game is changing, and in today’s NHL, successful teams invariably have a point-producer on the back end. If Hutson makes the NHL, he will produce plenty of points.
You have to study Hutson very closely to pick up on all of the smart little plays he makes. His teammates need to pay close attention as well, as this could have been a good scoring chance if the pass receiver had been expecting it from Hutson:
Hutson’s eye-hand coordination and hands are in the elite category. He can make extremely difficult plays look easy at times:
Hutson had several battles with 2023 top prospect Adam Fantilli in this game, and he fared pretty well considering how dangerous the NCAA leading scorer has been to start his college career:
Hutson faced a lot of 2-on-1 rushes versus Michigan and played them well for the most part. Not a lot he could do on this play besides try to intercept the pass, and he couldn’t:
Hutson is solid at zone entries. He often draws opponents to him and then dishes it off to a teammate who has options:
A 5-8 freshman defenceman being asked to kill off a 4-on-3 man advantage in his third-ever college game is a clear indication of what BU’s coaches think of Hutson’s defensive abilities. He does an admirable job of defending Mackie Samoskevich and then maintaining position to cut off possible passing lanes:
Here’s an instance where he took a penalty after not being able to hold the puck in. That matters little – what is nice to see in this clip is his competitive nature despite the score being 7-1…he wasn’t giving up a breakaway:
Smart little play to get to the puck and chip it past a defender behind the net:
Hutson loses the initial puck battle as he was a little lax getting to the boards but made up for it with the subsequent two boards battles:
Hutson makes up for a rare whiff on a pass to jump back into the play and thwart a pass to the open man. Loved his competitive spirit down seven goals with two minutes left:
Boston University 5 UConn 2
Only 15 seconds into the game Hutson was engaged in a physical battle with 6-2 200-pound Nate Pearson, another indication that he’s not going to shy away from older, bigger players from Day 1 in college:
Hutson has an uncanny ability to come out with the puck along the wall. Technique and craftiness go a long way:
When you are a defenceman as diminutive as Hutson, it’s important to be able to take a hit. He is smart about how he positions himself. On this play he stays close to the boards…the shorter distance you travel to the boards upon impact the better. Two inches is way better than two feet:
Nothing earth shattering here but the timing is immaculate – Hutson waits until the defender commits to him so that the guy he passes it to has a clear path into the zone:
Another example of Hutson using a fake to evade an opponent – this time he also avoided being crunched. Such a smart player:
Another time when you don’t expect Hutson to end up with the puck and he finds a way:
This may not be a pass that the coaches draw up because of the risk involved but freshman Hutson is more than confident enough to try it…and it worked:
There are several plays I’ve seen from Hutson where you think to yourself: “He couldn’t have done that on purpose.” But if you keep on seeing them….you wonder. This is one of those. Did he chip the puck off of the boards to himself? Maybe:
Being able to anticipate the play is a tremendous asset for any defenceman, and Hutson has that ability. He sees this passing play developing and steps up to break up a great scoring chance:
Hutson’s passing ability is elite – plain and simple. It all stems from uncanny vision and puck skills:
Another great rush where he fakes passing to a teammate around center ice and it fools his opponents:
The Canadiens for many years had few defencemen that could thread the needle on a pass. That has been changing with this year’s rookie crop, and will change even more when Hutson is ready to help out. He leads his forwards perfectly:
Another play where Hutson stay close to the boards/glass so he absorbs most of the hit that he knew was coming:
Hutson’s goal showcased his quickness and determination. He jumped up into the play at a supersonic pace with arms and stick flailing all the way. Smart read and great effort:
Hutson catches four UConn penalty killers all on the same side and quickly feeds his defence partner. who may have been wise to one-time it:
Hutson is rarely caught flat footed. Here was one such circumstance:
Hutson gets away with creaming a player at the side of the net, gets the puck and takes off on a breakaway:
Beat in a foot race? Well yeah – when he’s caught flat footed, he doesn’t have the straight-ahead power and strength of older, fleeter collegians. One of these plays every five or six games is acceptable…just not on a nightly basis:
He looks like he’s going to be checked along the boards but he sprints by, gets tripped and makes a perfect feed while sprawling on the ice:
Ruffian Hutson ended the game in the penalty box:
Posting every clip individually would likely take another few days so I’ve compiled the remainder of the clips left into one file that demonstrates Hutson’s smart outlet passing, puck carrying, defence and smarts:
Here are eight additional highlights versus Michigan that are in 400 p resolution – I downloaded them separately as you only get the option of downloading multiple files in the lowest resolution…meaning that the highlights above would have been in 400 p only if these had been included:
Lane Hutson is a special talent. His hockey IQ, feet, hands, vision and competitiveness are all well above average. The only negative in his game is his size, and he compensates for that in many ways. Three years ago there was another Canadiens’ draft pick whose only drawback was his size as well – Cole Caufield, and that has turned out well for the Canadiens.
It’s hard not to envision this pick going well for Montreal as well, especially considering that he was not selected in the top 60 of the draft. He is not overwhelmed by size, he doesn’t back down from anyone, and he does not hesitate about being first in the corner. It’s not always the biggest guy that wins a puck battle…it’s often the craftiest. There aren’t many players smarter than Hutson.
Montreal has several young large defencemen who would make solid defence partners for Hutson down the road as they would be able to insulate him with their size. Be it Kaiden Guhle, Johnny Kovacevic or Arber Zhekaj. I see Hutson being given every opportunity to play in the NHL because of the club’s huge need for a power-play quarterback, and I see him seizing the opportunity and becoming a point-producing defenceman who will help the club excel on the power play and win hockey games. It should be fun watching him at the world juniors this winter.
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