Canadiens’ Lane Hutson takes step to establish floor, flashes ceiling in NHL debut

Lucas Raymond scored late in regulation to tie it up against the Montreal Canadiens and again in overtime to complete the comeback and keep the Detroit Red Wings' playoff hopes intact with a 5-4 victory.

Lane Hutson was already moving when the pass came to him from David Savard. 

He swiftly changed directions as it hit his stick, danced across the blue line with it tethered to his pallet, crossed over swiftly from strong side to weak side, and then made a sleek move to cross up Detroit’s J.T. Compher and make his way into a more threatening spot to shoot from.

Hutson then let the puck go and circled around the net for a rebound that never came because Brendan Gallagher had corralled Hutson’s shot and scored on one of his own to make it 1-0 Canadiens. 

Just like that, the 62nd overall pick in 2022 had his first NHL assist. It was registered as the product of his very first offensive-zone touch in the league, manufactured in the exact same manner that saw him put up so many of his 97 points in 77 games as a phenom with the Boston University Terriers over the last two seasons in the NCAA, and it was the first of several dynamic sequences he’d predictably author in the game.

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But it was the other stuff Hutson did in this debut — the less predictable, little stuff you’d barely notice if you weren’t paying close attention — that offered the biggest evidence he was in the right place. To see the five-foot-10, 162-pound Hutson win nearly all his battles in his own zone, to see him close the gap on Robbi Fabbri and Dylan Larkin to turn dangerous rushes into muted ones, to see him box out Lucas Raymond, Alex DeBrincat, Andrew Copp and Christian Fischer in front of Samuel Montembeault, and to see him successfully execute 14 of 16 controlled breakouts with precision was to see him begin to establish a floor at this level.

Nothing could be more important than that at this stage because, without it, Hutson will never be trusted enough to be placed in proper position to reach his incredibly high ceiling.

The test for him is to print in black and white before colouring the canvas in ways he and so few others can, and he took a vital first step in passing it.

“I felt pretty good,” Hutson told reporters at Little Caesars Arena after the game ended.

Never mind that he was caught helpless on the play that saw Raymond complete the comeback win for the Red Wings. 

Hutson tried to intercept the perfect pass from Larkin that Raymond one-timed for his second goal and the 5-4 outcome Detroit so desperately needed, but he couldn’t and that’s how it goes sometimes in the end-to-end circus of three-on-three overtime.

Hutson was also inches from ending the Red Wings’ season right before that on another heady play up ice that saw him put his first NHL shot into a place that forced Alex Lyon to make his biggest save of the night.

“Wish it would’ve went in,” he said. “That would’ve been pretty cool, but it didn’t.”

It’s a game of inches.

Hutson couldn’t get caught up in missing by one to stop Compher’s first of two goals on the night.

He tried desperately to recover on the first period play that left the Canadiens down a man — with Joel Armia heading to their bench to replace a broken stick while the puck was cycling through their zone — but he wasn’t able to. 

But that never appeared to weigh Hutson down. 

Nor should it have.

According to Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis, that whole sequence couldn’t even be considered a blemish on Hutson’s record.

“He was fine in his own zone,” he said. “I wasn’t going to get caught up in that (goal) tonight. How we play in the d-zone has been something we’ve been talking about together for over 80 games, and he’s jumping into that. He wasn’t perfect, but his intentions were there. I didn’t feel he was exposed when we were in the defensive zone. 

“He played a good game.”

St. Louis first used the word “excellent” to describe Hutson’s game, and it was particularly noteworthy considering the 20-year-old had to be nervous it in front of a mix of 15-20 family members in his home state and against a Red Wings team playing with its playoff hopes hanging in the balance.

They took advantage of Montreal’s other defencemen to claw their way back from down 4-1 and resuscitate their chances before Raymond officially saved their season. It was an onslaught for the entire third period, which easily could’ve overwhelmed Hutson but never did.

He made steady plays without the puck from beginning to end, and tantalizing ones with it — including one right after notching his assist to Gallagher that saw him set up Jake Evans with a perfect one-timer opportunity off an offensive-zone faceoff.

“I gotta execute on that one,” Evans said. “I don’t think he knows me yet — I’m not the shooter on the team.”

Hutson will learn who’s who in time, of which he’s got plenty of to continue proving how he’ll translate the dominant game he played at every other level to the world’s highest one.

Hutson’s next opportunity to do so comes Tuesday, against the Red Wings again, but this time at the Bell Centre for the Canadiens’ season finale.

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