Opting to create space for rookies and remain competitive as an NHL team is a difficult task to manage. Ben Hutton has managed to be one of three rookies to make the opening night line up for the Vancouver Canucks and hasn’t looked out of place. His scouting report and preseason spoke of a puck moving defenceman who can make smart plays.
Hutton has been tasked with soaking up top-four minutes on the blue line. He plays on the powerplay and in the past few games, he has received minutes on the penalty kill. So how has the 22-year-old defender fared so far in the 2015-16 season?
For the majority of the season, Hutton has been paired with Luca Sbisa and Yannick Weber. Hutton, Sbisa and Weber all have Corsi For percentages below 50 percent 5-on-5. Hutton averages about 47.1 percent, Sbisa 42.1 percent and Weber 48.5 percent.
Those numbers are not great. Sbisa has been, to put it simply, horrible and is most likely pulling Hutton’s Corsi for percentage down. Weber is a bit of a mystery, as he has averaged below 50 percent Corsi For only once in his NHL career. With only a small sample size, we cannot determine if having a Corsi For percentage below 50 percent is indicative of how his career will unfold. In fact, he will most likely see a higher Corsi For percentage as his career progresses.
Hutton’s Corsi For percentage of 47.1 percent is actually above the Canucks’ team average and the Canucks sit second last in the league in Corsi For percentage at 46.5 percent 5-on-5. The fact that he sits above the average is a very good sign at this stage of his development.
Lets take a look at this graph created by Carolyn Wilke:
For example: Luca Sbisa is a very bad defender. But his HD% might trick you into thinking he clears the crease. pic.twitter.com/7tfC2ndQM8
— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) January 29, 2016
On the x-axis, Carolyn has placed the percentage of on-ice scoring chances against that are high danger. The y-axis shows the number of scoring chances against over 60 minutes.
Hutton is placed in a pretty good spot. He is fourth on the team in reducing scoring chances against on the Canucks. As well, he allows less high danger scoring chances than Chris Tanev and Alex Edler.
In a recent Sportsnet article, Thomas Drance is quoted as saying this about a very important statistic Hutton leads the Canucks defenders in,
“Even though Hutton has been snake-bit offensively, he still leads all Vancouver defencemen in even-strength point scoring rate. On a club that hasn’t generated much offence from the back end, Hutton has four primary assists in 5-on-5 situations. No other Canucks blue-liner has more than two.”
Having high-scoring defenders is an important aspect of today’s NHL and the rookie is showing he has the ability to produce offensively.
Another aspect to Hutton’s game is his ability to stay calm in all situations. His advanced statistics would seem to support this aspect. While his Corsi for percentage is below 50%, on average, his ability to reduce the number of scoring chances reflects someone who knows how to act with the puck under pressure.
If you look back at the Canucks’ 2015 playoff series against the Calgary Flames, you will notice the Canucks’ defence constantly being pummelled on the forecheck. The defense had an inability to calmly move the puck out of danger, which would result in a turnover. Hutton’s play provides an answer to the forecheck of the opposing team.
Chris Tanev was asked about Hutton and his ability to play under pressure:
“You watch him with the puck and he is so calm under pressure,” says Tanev, who possesses that quality himself. “He finds outs in our end all the time and he is not just shooting it up the glass or rimming it around the boards. A lot of young guys sort of panic when they get in those situations, but he’ll find the centreman or make a move and skate the puck out of the zone. He is very composed and he is always calm. He’s very impressive.”
Simply put, the Canucks are a better team offensively when Hutton is on the ice.
As a person, Ben Hutton has won over his teammates and the Canuck fan base.
Recently, Hutton was a guest at Edmonds Community School in Burnaby, British Columbia where he read a couple of books to students and fielded their questions. Acts like these will quickly endear Hutton to the Canucks’ fanbase.
In the Canucks 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders, Hutton was all smiles as he scored his first NHL goal. After being mobbed by his linemates, he made his way to the bench where you could see the team’s excitement for his first goal.
So what does this all mean?
Hutton is progressing, and he may even be ahead of schedule. His production has been crucial to the success of the Canucks throughout the 2015-16 season, and if the Canucks hope to make the playoffs, he will have to be relied upon even more. If the Canucks did not have a player like Hutton playing on the blue line, they would be farther down in the standings.
Hutton is also becoming more involved with the Vancouver community, quickly becoming a fan favourite. The team clearly enjoys having Hutton in the dressing room as a person and on the ice as a player.
While his quick success is a bit surprising, Ben Hutton has become an important part of Jim Benning’s plan to build for the future while staying competitive.