It’s tough to believe, but Ben Hutton has been the Vancouver Canucks’ best defenceman so far in this 2018-19 season.
Coming into training camp, coach Travis Green was anything but quiet about his feelings towards Hutton—he made it clear that he thought Hutton was out of shape and plain and simply not up to par.
Green: I'm excited for Ben Hutton. I think he's put in a lot of work in this year and we challenged him last year. He had a hard year and I'm not gonna sit here and say I didn't make it hard on him. I did – I wasn't happy with some of things that he did with conditioning levels.
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) September 13, 2018
Hutton clearly didn’t take the criticism lightly, and following a solid preseason effort, he’s had a strong start to the regular season.
Ben Hutton’s Rocky Ride
The Brockville, Ontario product started his NHL career very strongly with the Canucks. He chalked up a not-too-shabby 25 points in 75 games back in the 2015-16 season. Following that campaign, however, it was a rocky ride downhill.
The next season wasn’t terrible—he put up five goals and helped out on an additional 14 in his 71-game sophomore season. It was his third season where we started to see a discouraged and unmotivated young man losing the faith of his coaches, teammates and fans.
Green took over at the helm for the 2017-18 season and right out of the gate, much to his credit, he put his foot down and let everyone know that this was his team and no outside pressures were going to dictate how he runs his squad.
He made this clear by benching Brock Boeser to start the season despite furious outcries from just about every Canucks fan and media member alike. I may not have agreed with the decision, but I respected the fact that he wasn’t going to be moved. “Okay, but how does this run alongside the Hutton narrative?” you might be asking.
The 2017-18 season was labeled as a much-needed rebuild year. and people expected the kids to play. Hutton, who is now 25, fell into that category, but Green just didn’t care. Hutton was slow, he was sloppy, and on his best night, he was a minor liability.
Hutton laced up for only 61 games and saw Green axe his average ice time down over a full two-minutes from 20:30 to 18:25. The young man failed to ripple the mesh that season and only found the scoresheet with six assists.
The most noticeable deterioration in Hutton’s game, ignoring the statistical blemishes, was his diminished confidence. It was extremely evident that Green’s lack of confidence in him was resulting in a building mountain of self-doubt within Hutton. The puck-moving defender was no longer moving the puck. The happy-go-lucky kid that’s always cheesing cheek-to-cheek was no longer smiling.
“But with things coming out (in public), the media is never easy on you. That was tough. It was a tough year all around. I didn’t produce, I was getting scratched for the first time, and the media was blowing up all over the place. I’ve just got to put it behind me. Every player faces adversity and it’s how you handle it.” – Ben Hutton, Canucks D-man
Jumping to the 2018-19 season, Hutton looks more confident than ever and his infectious smile has returned.
Hutton and the 2018-19 Canucks
“We’ve challenged him and I’m excited to see him on the ice. It’s a clean slate this year and trust me, if he’s ready to roll, he’s going to play.” – Travis Green, Canucks coach
Most people were probably a little skeptical when Green came out and said Hutton had a clean slate, but he’s lived up to it and really given Hutton a vote of confidence so far this season.
To Hutton’s credit, he came into training camp on a mission and started to get back to his roots. He has been using his strong-skating and pushing the puck up ice for his team. His giveaways have fallen off substantially and he’s sitting on four at the moment, according to hockey-reference.com. Best of all, he’s contributing more offensively than ever before.
“I worked a lot over the summer just on my shot from the blue line: getting around the first defender and getting the shot through,” Hutton told the Vancouver Courier. “turning a 2-on-2 into a 3-on-2 can really help.”
Through 18 games, Hutton has already found twine four times and added three apples. He has the potential to hit 10-15 goals and 25-30 points if he keeps up this pace. Adding that kind of offensive output on the back end is exactly what the Canucks need this season to remain at the level of competitiveness the team has displayed so far.
Green has re-spiked Hutton’s average-ice-time back up to a career-high 21:10. His confidence is at an all-time high and as a result, he’s hands-down playing his best hockey and leading the team’s defensive core.
What do you think about Hutton’s season so far? Is this only temporary or is he the real deal? Let me know in the comments down below!
Matt is a longtime fan, player and student of the game of hockey. Broadcast and Online Journalism student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.