It seems that every time I turn on an NHL game or make one of my many daily visits to the addicting cesspool of NHL Twitter, I find myself questioning what dimension I’m living in.
Let’s just take some inventory;
-Erik Karlsson is struggling to score more than a pimply high-schooler. (On a stable, offence-focused team.)
-Despite the occasional IR visit, Roberto Luongo is still managing to stiff-arm Father Time.
-This skinny Elias Petterson kid doesn’t look too shabby.
-Mike Smith looks to be in serious danger of losing his job.
-Joel ‘The ‘Stache’ Quenneville is unemployed.
-Morgan Rielly of all people is maintaining a 1.25 point per game pace.
-And finally, I’m just now accepting the fact that the Las Vegas Golden Knights made it to a Stanley Cup final in their expansion year.
I’m done trying to rationalize things, or find a supernatural reason for these events, so let’s just say it’s been one hell of a year.
So is it really that crazy that I’m now suggesting that Ben ‘Beer Belly’ Hutton is currently the Vancouver Canucks’ best defenceman?
Probably not, but it just feels wrong to me.
The 25 year-old Canadian equivalent of Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard currently has a modest four goals and four assists through 20 games. Decent stats for a defenceman getting paid $2.8 million this year, but nothing mind-boggling.
So why am I suggesting that he is the Canucks’ best defenceman, you ask?
Well, quite frankly, the Canucks’ defence core is not very good.
Michael Del Zotto likes to throw his weight around, but that’s about all he’s good for. The Italian stallion is horrendous in his own zone, isn’t exactly a playmaker, and takes really really bad penalties at really really bad times.
Troy Stetcher is developing slowly, and looks promising, but still makes questionable decisions in the offensive zone, especially when picking his shooting lanes.
Eric Gudbranson has had some half-decent showings, at times looking like he may even be worthy of that third overall pick in 2010. However, the majority of the time he still skates like that peewee kid who hit puberty a little earlier than his teammates, and doesn’t exactly know how to handle his 6 foot 5 frame.
And then there’s Derrick Pouliot, who I’m not totally sure knows where he is about 74% of the time.
Add the fact that Chris Tanev is on the shelf every second month, and Alex ‘The Second Goalie’ Edler just being well… Alex Edler, there hasn’t been much competition for the top spot on Travis Green’s lineup card.
Enter Benjamin Hutton.
** I just now realized how similar Benjamin Hutton sounds like Benjamin Button, and I have made a mental note to make more Benjamin Button references. **
The Brockville, Ontario native had a pretty solid start with the Canucks in 2015/2016, putting up a respectable 25 points in 75 games on a pretty terrible Vancouver Canucks team. Sure he made his mistakes, but honestly at that point, the majority of Canucks fans were too busy punching the nearest wall through a constant stream of tears while clutching a Christian Ehrhoff plush doll to notice.
Hutton’s sophomore season wasn’t too bad, putting up 19 points in 71 games, but his play really started to slip in the 2017/2018 season, when Travis Green took over behind the bench for Willie ‘The Other ‘Stache’ Desjardins. Under Green, Hutton saw his average ice time drop from 20:30 down to 18:25. He failed to find the back of the net, and managed a measly six assists in 61 games.
This wasn’t something you could just chalk up to bad luck. He gave away pucks like Oprah gives away cars.
By season’s end, Hutton was wishing he could age in reverse a year or two. (Bit of a reach, but see how I snuck a Benjamin Button reference in there?)
Hutton went into the off-season looking to regain his spark, and above everything else, wanted to regain the confidence of his head coach.
That plan got off to the worst possible start, with Travis Green publicly criticizing the 25 year-old’s conditioning in training camp, claiming that the young defenceman was out of shape and simply not game-ready.
Thankfully for Canucks fans, the always-cheesing d-man has a The Athletic subscription, and like every other self-respecting Canucks fan, read Jason Botchford’s article on the coach’s criticism, and took Green’s comments as motivation. (You can send my cheque in the mail, Botch.)
Hutton had a solid pre-season showing, and carried that momentum into the regular season, maintaining a respectable 0.40 point per game pace. Not only is he producing, but he’s also proving not to be a total liability on the ice. His ice time has risen to 21:17, he’s moving the puck well, and he isn’t giving away the puck nearly as much.
His give-away numbers between 2015/2016 and 2017/2018 were 53, 50 and 43 respectively.
This year? He’s only given it away four times, according to Hockey Reference.
Hutton has been so impressive, Green has even trusted him with first-line powerplay privileges. Sure, the boss doesn’t exactly have many options, but nonetheless, Hutton has proven to be a relatively solid, reliable defenceman.
Wow. Never thought I would’ve typed that last sentence at this time last year.
Maybe we really are in a different dimension.