If you’re looking for splash and dash, Cole Hults is not your guy. If you want a hard-nosed, efficient defenseman who makes the right decisions and gets the job done consistently, then the former Penn State star should be at the top of your list.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2017, Hults signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Los Angeles Kings in April. The Big Ten Player of the Year as well as the league’s defensive player of the year, Hults scored 17 goals with 60 assists in his three seasons and didn’t miss any of the Nittany Lions’ 109 games.
Hults’ greatest asset, however, is that he needs minimal coaching — at least as far as his college career went.
During a recent phone interview, Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky updated his favorite two words to describe Hults on the spot:
“He’s so low maintenance, it’s incredible,” Gadowsky said. “Really, it’s no maintenance.
He’s incredibly effective and efficient, and he led the league in plus-minus and scoring (among defensemen). He’s not a flashy guy and he can go unnoticed but you can go ‘wow’ in the same breath because you never see him making mistakes. He’s high-performing and low risk. He does the stuff that helps you win.”
Gadowsky often tells reporters that Hults is “low maintenance.” For him to change it on the fly to “no maintenance” should have the Kings feeling even better than they already do about their incoming prospect.
According to Gadowsky, he only needed to correct something in Hults’ game once in three years. Gadowsky added that Hults only approached him once when he felt things weren’t going right.
“As a freshman, I had to talk to him about stick penalties, and from then on I never had to talk to him about it again,” the coach said. “The time he came to talk to me, this season, it was something for the good of the team, but he was right. He thought it would make us better. Anything you tell him, he does it to a ‘T’.”
He Might Look Slow, but He’s Not
When Hults first got to Penn State, Gadowsky thought he looked slow.
“He was sprinting laps, and it looked like he should be skating harder and putting in more effort,” Gadowsky said. “But then I went and checked the time and he wasn’t slow. The same thing with his shot. I thought he should be putting more into it, but then I talked to the goalies and they said, ‘Man, that thing is coming. And it always hit the net.”
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Hockey at Penn State is not the same as hockey in the minors or NHL. Can he make it? Kings fans will get a have a better idea in 2020-21 when he is reportedly expected to suit up for the AHL’s Orlando Reign.
“With him, he’s not the type of guy who is going to wow anybody in a week, Gadowsky said. “Month after month, you see how incredibly effective and the type of guy he is. Coaches are going to realize how good he is over time. He’s still young and he gets better every year. He’s had more goals and more points every season. For not being a flashy guy, being the Big Ten MVP is really something, trust me. He’s well rounded. It’s a matter of time. The more time he’s with them, the more the organization will realize how good he is.”
Part of the Blue Line Reconstruction
Hults’ size (6-feet, 190 pounds) and defensive capabilities do not present problems and he has shown he can contribute on offense and has been effective on the power play. The Kings recently stated that they will target defensemen in the upcoming NHL Draft. In addition to signing Hults, this could be a move toward reconstructing their blue line over the next few years.
In April, Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com gave some insight as to where Hults fits into the club’s system:
A versatile but firm defenseman who moves and shoots pucks well and could potentially grow into a second-team special teams role. Penn State’s schematics skew dramatically towards shot volume, and Hults, who has a heavy shot, was among the boats to be floated by the program’s generally high offensive tide. And that’s not to take anything away from his play without the puck. Even as a 19-year-old freshman, he was earning important minutes right off the bat on an NCAA tournament team and though an early injury offset some of his freshman year trajectory, he was productive very quickly on a good Penn State team, particularly on the power play. I’ve seen a good deal of Hults, but college hockey analyst and NHL scout Dave Starman has seen much, much more of him (and this is what he said): ‘Understated and efficient. Well-spoken kid who understands what he is and plays up to his level. Very good ‘A’ game and his ‘B’ game is not much lower than his ‘A’. Very consistent. Noticeable for the right reasons.’
A Great First Pass Is Mighty Important
Hults talked about his straightforward game to Rosen and others in a Zoom media teleconference: “I always had the simple mindset of wanting to get the pucks to the forwards. My brother always told me when I was younger I can make a great first pass — I’m Bobby Orr to him — so that’s my motto since I was like 16 when he told me that. It just kind of accumulated over the years. I like to play a simple game, I want to get pucks to guys like Madden and Turcotte (recent signees who were also on the Zoom call).”
Madden and Turcotte are just two in a long list of offensively brilliant players in the Kings’ farm system waiting to jump up to the big club. Promoting someone like Hults — who understands the importance of the breakout pass — at the same time as the young scoring bucks in the system may turn out to be a stroke of genius by general manager Rob Blake and the Los Angeles front office. Simply put, these players are going to need defensemen like Hults to get them the puck.
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Hults could be on the fast track to Los Angeles (which is going through a near-seismic juggling of personnel) which might be just in time to put the finishing touches on what could be titled, “NHL Makeover: Los Angeles Kings” if it was a TV show, (from ‘Kings trade Alec Martinez to Vegas for draft picks as rebuild continues,’ The Athletic, 02/19/2020).
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