Ben Hutton has a clean slate.
Last season’s struggles, the ones that led to multiple healthy scratches and just six assists in 61 games? Forgotten. Head coach Travis Green’s harsh criticism of his conditioning? In the past.
Imagine a Zamboni just cleaned the ice on Hutton’s career. All the divot, rut, and pile of snow along the boards has been cleared away, leaving a fresh, pristine surface full of possibility.
“I’m excited for Ben,” said Green on Thursday as the Canucks reported to training camp. “I think he’s put a lot of work in this year. We challenged him last year. He had a hard year and I’m not going to sit here and say I didn’t make it hard on him.
“I wasn’t happy with some of the things that he did as far as his conditioning level,” he added. “I didn’t think it put him in a spot to be the best player he can be. I thought he had a lot more in his game. We’ve challenged him and I’m excited to see him on the ice. It’s a clean slate this year and trust me, if he’s ready to roll, he’s going to play.”
Normally something ready to roll is spherical, but Hutton is looking significantly less round this year. Hutton cut his weight over the summer — down to a svelte 203 lbs from 210 lbs last year — and appears to be, if you’ll excuse the cliché, in the best shape of his life.
“I worked hard over the summer with a new trainer,” said Hutton. ”I’m down some weight, body fat’s real low. It was a lot of circuit training this summer.”
Hutton’s new trainer was Tony Greco, who is known for pushing his clients hard in the gym. His workout partner was one-time “best player in the world” Claude Giroux, who has been training with Greco for years.
The leaner Hutton is hoping he can help the Canucks fix one of their biggest issues: a lack of scoring from the blue line.
“We need to get more offence out of our defence, it’s simple,” said Green. “And that’s easier said than done. High-scoring defencemen in the league are not easy to come by.”
We’ll ignore, for the moment, the irony of the Sharks acquiring Erik Karlsson, the highest-scoring defenceman of the last decade, just an hour after Green said this for a fairly cheap price. Generally speaking, high-scoring defencemen are hard to find.
The Canucks won’t have any one defenceman putting up big points, but will need to get scoring by committee. Getting Hutton and Troy Stecher back to the 20+ points they scored in their rookie seasons would help, as would getting more out of Derrick Pouliot.
“We hope Pouliot, Hutton — young guys that are still trying to figure out who they are in the league — come back and have stronger seasons,” said Green, then outlined how they hope to get more offence from the defence: “It’s defencemen getting shots through and them willing to join the rush. They have the green light to get up the ice. We want to play an aggressive style of hockey.”
Hutton managed to get shots on goal last season, finishing third among Canucks’ defencemen in shot-rate at 5-on-5, but his shot has never been particularly threatening. As for joining the rush, Hutton’s skating was one part of his game that Green questioned at the end of last season.
“I worked a lot over the summer just on my shot from the blue line: getting around the first defender and getting the shot through,” said Hutton, but pointed out the important of joining the rush — “turning a 2-on-2 into a 3-on-2 can really help” — so he worked intensely on his skating.
“Through the workouts there was a lot of explosive work, so I think that will definitely translate onto the ice, but I also had a skating coach,” he said. “We really worked on some edgework because, I mean, you’ve seen some of the best skaters, like McDavid, his edgework is incredible, so I worked on a lot of that in the summer as well.”
Hutton may never skate like Connor McDavid or shoot like Al Iafrate, but improvements in both those areas, along with his conditioning, should make him a more effective defenceman for the Canucks. At the age of 25, Hutton should be in his prime, and this season — a contract year — may be his only chance to establish himself as a part of the Canucks’ future.
Mostly, Hutton’s just happy to have a fresh chance to prove himself to Travis Green.
“Greener’s been nothing but honest with me and straight up,” said Hutton. “I feel like if I come into camp and have a good camp and good preseason, I can come in, just earn my ice. There’s a clean sheet.”