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Most intriguing Canucks, #2: Ben Hutton

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Entering his fourth NHL season, this is Ben Hutton’s last chance at writing a redemption story.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Ben Hutton (27) shoots the puck past Philadelphia Flyers left wing Taylor Leier (20) at Rogers Arena.
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Is there a player on this Canucks roster with more to prove than Ben Hutton?

If not, he should at least have the largest fire currently burning under his rear end. The end of last year couldn’t have ended any worse for the Brockville, Ontario native. He was a healthy scratch, his fitness was publicly called out, and he finished his third NHL season with a measly six assists in 61 games.

He surely can’t be much worse, but how much better can Hutton be in 2017-18?

Where he left off

Hutton actually began the season playing upwards of 23 minutes per night, which seems like forever ago considering his current circumstances. It was an injury to Alex Edler that vaulted Hutton’s ice time. Michael Del Zotto was playing even more than Hutton during that stretch.

Despite the boost, Hutton didn’t capitalize on his opportunity. By the beginning of December, Hutton was relegated to the third pairing, and averaged a shade over 15 minutes the rest of the way.

Once you get past the dreadful point totals, there are some things to like about Hutton’s on five-on-five play. He allowed the third-fewest scoring chances against among Canucks defencemen, ranking behind Chris Tanev and Alex Biega. He actually posted great scoring chance suppression totals with both defencemen, showing that he can be effective when paired with the right partner.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Washington Capitals
Ben Hutton did have some good moments in his own end last season.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

On the flip side, Hutton faced weaker competition than most of the Canucks defence. His Quality of Competition Time on Ice Percentage was sixth among Canucks defenders, meaning that he often faced weaker players compared to his compadres on defence.

You can attribute that to Hutton spending most of the season in a third-pairing role, where it seemed like his confidence was already in shambles at that point. Overall Hutton might have played alright, but the glowing, careless errors often cemented his status as a regular member of the coach’s doghouse.

Where he sits now

Hutton swore that he was going to train with a vengeance this offseason, with promises to start a running club and come back in better shape. His Instagram told stories of his progress, and he came back to camp a man of his word.

When camp started last week, Hutton’s weight was down to 203 (from about 210), and his body fat percentage dropped below 10%. He spent the offseason training with Claude Giroux, but can some of Giroux’s offensive prowess rub off on Hutton?

Hutton teased with potential during his rookie season, but he’s watched both his even-strength and power play production drop off a cliff. He had only two power play points last year, and with two, two-assist outings, he only got points in four of 61 games last season.

Travis Green is giving him every chance to rediscover his game early on in the preseason, a small reward for showing up in shape. He logged over 26 minutes of ice time in his preseason debut and got first unit power play minutes.

Now, he gets a shot anchoring this promising unit as well.

Season outlook

Even though Hutton is getting the opportunities, the number one thing he has to do before everything else is cement himself as a reliable player.

Plays like this certainly aren’t going to do him any favours.

One thing Hutton has failed to grasp, is making the simple play instead of overthinking things and trying to do it all by himself. On the play above, he could have swatted the puck out to center, but tried to corral it and make a play, which resulted in a goal against.

There are some promising aspects to Hutton’s game. He showed a tendency to throw some nice hits last year, and can make a good first pass.

Hutton can make all the nice passes he wants, but if he doesn’t shore up his mental errors, Green will never trust him. Say what you want about the things Hutton does do right, but positive commentary on him will be nothing more than grasping at straws if he doesn’t cut down on mistakes.

There is a lot to like about what Hutton brings to the table. He skates well, often makes good passes, and is average (if not above average compared to current Canucks defencemen) in his own end. It’s the glaring mental errors that need to be erased from his game before Hutton can turn the corner and become an everyday NHL defenceman.

He has the tools to get there, but will he? That’s the million 2.8 million dollar question.