McCann and Hutton Forcing Canucks Into Tough Decisions

Coming into Canucks training camp, the hype was surrounding prized prospect Jake Virtanen. He had a chance to shine on the first line with the Sedins on Monday against the Coyotes, but he wasn’t the prospect who stood out. He wasn’t even the second-most noticeable prospect.

Those two would be Jared McCann and Ben Hutton.

McCann scored the only goal on Monday night in a 1-0 Canucks win, a powerplay goal set up by 22-year-old defenceman Ben Hutton. It was McCann’s first goal and Hutton’s fourth assist of the preseason. It was another solid performance by Hutton after he registered three assists in the Canucks previous game against Calgary.

On Tuesday night, both McCann and Hutton stood out again. In a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, McCann scored the only goal, and Hutton stood out with strong defensive play and sharp passes. Hutton even had a Bobby Orr-esque rush from his own end into the Sharks zone where he forced Brent Burns into a hooking penalty.

Hutton and McCann are now tied for the team lead with four points each during the preseason. No other Canuck has more than a point thus far.

With two games left in the preseason, these two Canuck standouts are going to leave General Manager Jim Benning with some tough decisions before he cuts down his roster to 23 players.

Get Out of the Vey

Regardless of whether McCann or Hutton make the roster, it’s clear that they have outplayed some of the incumbents who had an upper hand on the prospects.

The one that has to be the most disappointing is Linden Vey. He put on ten pounds coming into camp and worked hard all summer, but it hasn’t translated into on-ice success. In four preseason games he has three shots and didn’t impress during two separate games where he started on the second line.

As of now Vey doesn’t deserve to make the roster, but it’s unlikely that they will try to send him down to the minors.

It also seems unlikely that Benning would trade Vey after giving up a second-round pick for him just over a year ago. It leaves Vey in limbo because McCann deserves that fourth line spot right now that initially belonged to Vey.

Some may think that McCann isn’t a good fit on the Canucks’ fourth line between Brandon Prust and Derek Dorsett. You could point to his 185 pound frame and argue that he doesn’t provide enough grit to play on that unit.

So why is Vey penciled in on that line?

McCann has shown a willingness to battle for the puck in his first four preseason games, one of many reasons why he has impressed the Canucks brass. The Canucks fourth line last year had both Brad Richardson and Vey at centre during certain points, both similar in stature to McCann.

McCann also isn’t a player who only fits in the top six, like Sven Baertschi or Hunter Shinkaruk. His 200-foot game was the number one asset he had going into his draft year.

If McCann did crack the opening night roster, it’s almost certain that it would be on the fourth line. The Canucks want to keep him at centre and they have Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter, and Bo Horvat ahead of him on the depth chart. Playing him with good 200-foot hockey players such as Prust and Dorsett isn’t detrimental, in fact he would make that line better.

People want to make comparisons between McCann and a young Ryan Kesler. Rememeber that Kesler spent his fair share of time as a bottom-six forward before blossoming in the NHL.

What About Hutton?

Hutton isn’t the best defensive prospect in the preseason, he’s been the best defenceman on the team.

If the Canucks are willing to make room for young guys who deserve a spot, then Hutton will start on the Canucks’ opening night roster. Unfortunately, keeping Hutton with the Canucks will force management to make a tough decision. The Canucks defence was pretty much set in stone before the preseason, but if one defencemen were likely to get bumped it would probably be fellow prospect Frank Corrado.

They could keep eight defencemen, but Frank Corrado would hardly get into any games. Corrado would have to clear waivers to be sent down and losing him for nothing is not smart asset management. Corrado hasn’t played poorly in preseason, but is definitely a couple of steps behind Hutton.

Corrado isn’t flashy and doesn’t put up a lot of points but is known for his smart defensive play. That’s definitely an asset, but Hutton will bring more to the table if he continues to use his speed and make smart passes.

It seems most likely that Hutton will get sent down to the AHL, but he deserves a spot on the opening roster with his stellar preseason play.