From the doghouse to the penthouse.
The Vancouver Canucks finished an injury ravaged October with an 8-6-0 record, and in a fight for first place in the Pacific Division. Part of the reason why the team has remained competitive has been defenceman Ben Hutton, who has had a remarkable turnaround from last season.
Coming off a year where he scored zero goals and was regularly made a healthy scratch, Hutton is back in head coach Travis Green’s good books. With Alex Edler and Chris Tanev out of the lineup, the 25-year-old has logged an average of 25:16 minutes in the last five games. Along with Erik Gudbranson, Hutton is now on the Canucks’ No. 1 defensive pairing.
“I feel good,” Hutton told Daily Hive after practice on Thursday. “It’s never good to see players go down, but with our top two d-men going down, some ice time has freed up, and I’ve been able to capitalize on getting more ice time. I feel pretty good out there.”
Hutton showed more commitment to fitness over the summer, but was still made a healthy scratch for the first two games of the season. The fourth-year NHLer then averaged just 17:38 in the next seven games. His increase in ice time jumped 7+ minutes per game after Vancouver’s blue-line was injury stricken.
Hutton’s ice time in the last five games:
- October 31 vs Chicago: 22:29
- October 29 vs Minnesota: 27:55
- October 27 vs Pittsburgh: 22:42
- October 25 at Arizona: 24:33
- October 24 at Las Vegas: 29:25
During that span, Hutton has been on the ice for just three even strength goals against, and only one on the penalty kill. Meanwhile, he was on the ice for four even strength goals scored by the Canucks.
“He came to camp in good shape,” Green said, of Hutton’s improved conditioning. “That was the first step for him. Second step was playing well, and he’s done both those. Obviously with Edler and Tanev out, it’s a lot of minutes being put on him and [Gudbranson]. Really all our D is in spots maybe they haven’t had before. How you deal with that is important. I think for the most part, they’ve done a good job.”
“I feel like I’ve gained some of his confidence and trust,” Hutton said of Green.”With that being said. I feel like I gained my confidence back too. Last year I was the first one to admit I didn’t have a good year, and I wasn’t playing confident. This year I’ve got a little confidence back and I just want to build off that.”
Somehow, some way, the Canucks are 3-2 without their top two blueliners in the lineup, and Hutton and Gudbranson logging heavy minutes. The Hutton and Gudbranson partnership hasn’t always been smooth sailing. It’s taken a lot of time for both blueliners to read off of each other and find chemistry.
“Adversity is good for you,” Gudbranson said of Hutton. “It toughens you up mentally. His decision-making this year has been on point. He understands pressure situations very well, and he’s calm under that pressure.
“I think his skating is much better, his puck-handling is much better. There’s so much to say about confidence. He’s playing well because of that. He’s confident, he’s talking a lot. He’s being decisive, proactive. That’s the makings for a good little run.”
Vancouver is on a run themselves as they get set to host the 7-4-2 Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena on Friday night. The Canucks will be looking to start November with the success they had in October, before beginning a six-game road trip beginning in Detroit on Tuesday.
“It’s a good challenge,” Hutton explained. “Each night we know that we’re going to get the best line. Whether it’s me and Guddy I’m paired up with. We’ve just got to make sure we take away the top players time and space. Have good gaps, and not allow them to make plays.”
“He’s got more of the instincts to get up,” said Gudbranson, the stay-at-home member of the partnership. “I’m more thinking about if something goes wrong. I’m there to help him out. I want him up in the play as much as possible, but he’s done such a good job at protecting his own end. Keeping guys to the outside, being physical, strong in the corners. That heavy lifting, so he’s playing great.”