On Tuesday morning, Ben Hutton didn’t have an NHL contract. Four days later, he was suiting up against his former team.
At one point, Hutton was considered a big part of the Canucks’ future on defence. He burst onto the scene in his rookie season by leading all Canucks’ defencemen in scoring. The fans voted him the team’s best defenceman, granting him the Babe Pratt Trophy. He even got named to Team Canada for the 2016 World Championships, winning gold.
Perhaps he set the bar too high for himself as a rookie. In his three seasons since, he’s stagnated, fallen off a cliff, and climbed back up, but never quite to the heights of that first season. He’s a tough player to assess, as sometimes he’ll look like a legitimate top-four defenceman, while the next he’ll justify every healthy scratch Travis Green ever gave him.
Still, it was a surprise when the Canucks chose not to give Hutton a qualifying offer and let him go to free agency. It was even more surprising when no teams signed him, despite limited options among defencemen in free agency.
Finally, injuries blueline prompted the Los Angeles Kings to sign Hutton this past week, putting an end to his stressful summer. His first game action with the Kings? A quick reunion with the Canucks in a preseason bout on neutral ice in Salt Lake City.
Hutton said hello to his former team and introduced himself to his new team with a goal and an assist when I watched this game.
- None of the goaltenders were any good in this game. For the Canucks, newcomer Zane McIntyre got lit up early and gave up a total of four goals on 21 shots through the first two periods. Richard Bachman came in for the third and gave up three goals on seven shots. At the other end, Jack Campbell allowed five goals on 39 shots. I haven’t seen goaltending in an NBA arena this bad since Jermaine O’Neal.
- It’s hard to judge the goaltenders too harshly in this game given the odd lighting situation in Salt Lake City. Vivint Smart Home Arena is the home of the Utah Jazz of the NBA and the lighting is set up for the 94-foot length of a basketball court, not the 200-foot length of an ice rink. That meant there were weird bright spots and dreadfully dark end zones that must have made it a nightmare to track the puck. It can be tough for goaltenders to adjust to different lighting conditions in different arenas, and the lighting in Utah just wasn’t designed with hockey in mind.
- The alternate explanation is that the players on the bubble for both teams paid off the goaltenders so they could pad their numbers.
- Quinn Hughes puts a lot of snap on his passes and it unfortunately led to him snapping his stick on an early shift. The blade of his stick went twice as far as the puck, bearing a strong resemblance to when I’m golfing and I somehow hit my divot further than the ball.
- We saw two defence pairings that we’re likely to see to start the season: Alex Edler with Tyler Myers, and Quinn Hughes with Chris Tanev. The latter were particularly effective at quickly and efficiently moving the puck up ice. The pairing is mutually beneficial: Tanev provides a stay-at-home presence for Hughes’ forays up ice, while Hughes keeping the puck in the offensive zone all the time might mean that Tanev gets injured less often.
- Adam Gaudette’s bid to make the Canucks’ opening night lineup faces some significant hurdles, but he’s certainly giving it his all. He was heavily involved in Saturday’s game, both positively and negatively, but you definitely noticed him. Sure, sometimes the noticing took the form of, “Who just got completely undressed in the neutral zone?” but still: noticing occured.
- “What I like about Adam is he’s trying to make the team,” said Travis Green after the game, then sent a jab towards other players on the bubble: “Other guys should take notice.”
- Gaudette was first noticed when he didn’t tie up Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who found a puck in a scramble caused by a Hutton point shot and shoveled it into the net for the 1-0 goal. To be fair to Gaudette, it’s tough to check three players at a time. What’s that? Hang on, I’m being informed Jaret Anderson-Dolan is, in fact, one person.
- Gaudette made up for the gaffe with a goal of his own, niftily tipping an Alex Edler point shot on the power play. Like pretty much everything Marie Kondo says, it was a neat tip.
- Tyler Graovac isn’t going to make the Canucks, but he could get a call-up as one of the few true centres that will be under NHL contract in Utica this year. He gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead with a little deception: after stealing a flubbed pass, he burst the other way and faked a big slap shot before sneaking the puck along the ice between Campbell’s legs. Graovac is evidently the sneakiest 6’5” man of all time.
- Like an unlucky poker player, Gaudette took a bad beat on the Kings’ second goal. He fished for the puck in the neutral zone instead of keeping a good gap or taking the body, then Michael Amadio chipped the puck past him to break in alone and fire the puck past McIntyre.
- Gaudette was also on the ice for the Kings’ third goal, this time in a penalty-killing role. At least this time he didn’t wear any of the blame; it was just an unfortunate coincidence that he was on the ice for the first three Kings’ goals. Fortunately, they scored four more, so those three were easily forgotten. Except Gaudette was on the penalty kill for one of those other four goals too. Man, tough game.
- It's worth noting that Gaudette was playing in his fourth game of the preseason. On the one hand, that's a sign that they're giving him a real opportunity to make the roster, but it also means it was his fourth game in six nights, so he might be a little worn out. Perhaps that's part of the assessment: is his conditioning up to snuff?
- Hutton’s goal was a one-timer off the rush where basically nobody took a check. Sure, McIntyre shouldn’t have allowed an unscreened shot from the point to get past him, but he may have been distracted by four of the five Canucks skaters standing around like they were waiting for a cab in Vancouver.
- After Alec Martinez made it 5-2 on the power play, Tanner Pearson responded with a bit of unexpected snipery. He blocked a shot at one end, then chased down the puck at the other end and sent a rolling puck whizzing past Campbell and inside the far post. Like Stone Cold Steve Austin’s signature move, it was a stunner.
- Just 20 seconds later, Josh Leivo gave the Canucks hope for a real comeback. Brock Boeser, in his first game of the preseason, made a great pass to evade a pinching Hutton, sending Leivo away on a 2-on-1. Leivo kept the puck and sniped top corner just as he got to the shadowy place on the ice. To be fair to Campbell, Mufasa once told him he must never go to the shadowy place, so he was scared he was going to be attacked by hyenas the entire game, which makes it tough to focus on saving the puck.
- The Kings quickly scored two more goals to once again put the game out of reach, but Gaudette got involved once again, finishing off a pretty play by Quinn Hughes. Hughes took a pass from Jake Virtanen and darted around Martin Frk like he wasn’t even there, just like the vowels in his last name. With all eyes on Hughes, and none in Frk's name, Gaudette was wide open for the tap-in.
- Other notes: Tyler Myers made some noise offensively with four shots and some sleek moves you wouldn’t expect from a player his size. Tyler Motte was noticeable for his effort and hard work, much like last year’s preseason, and he hit a post. Nikolay Goldobin had a quiet game, but still managed three shots on goal.