D-man Hutton hopes to thrive on new, up­tempo sys­tem

Blue­lin­ers Hutton, Stecher aim to be more ef­fec­tive with less ice time this sea­son

The Province - - FRONT PAGE - Ben Kuzma

In­dif­fer­ent play. A mumps scare. A hand in­jury.

You name it, and Ben Hutton ex­pe­ri­enced it last sea­son. He never meshed with Erik Gud­bran­son, strug­gling to han­dle ma­jor min­utes and dis­play­ing in­de­ci­sion in his game that smacked of a sopho­more slump.

Still, Hutton scored five goals on a back end that couldn’t stay healthy and couldn’t find the net with Canucks de­fence­men scor­ing a col­lec­tive 23 goals. And he never lost his trade­mark, glass-half-full ap­proach to the game and to life.

“There wasn’t a lot of time where you were play­ing 10 or 15 games with the same part­ner,” Hutton said Thurs­day be­fore fac­ing the Win­nipeg Jets. “I learned you have to make chem­istry with ev­ery player and there are go­ing to be nights when you’re feel­ing it and the puck is al­ways on your stick and you’re mak­ing great plays.

“And there are other nights when you just have to play a chess game, chip (the puck) out when you can be­cause there’s not al­ways go­ing to be a play. It’s give and take.”

A new, up­tempo sys­tem and new de­fen­sive de­ploy­ments should mean more pro­duc­tion from Hutton, 24, and his new part­ner Troy Stecher, 23, who both like to jump up into the play and cre­ate odd-man rushes.

Hutton fin­ished sec­ond in rookie blue­liner as­sists (24) and was third in points (25) in 2015-16, while Stecher is com­ing off a 24-point rookie sea­son in which he also had am­ple power play time.

“Last game (Tues­day), I was go­ing to jump up and I look to my right and Stecher is right there,” Hutton said. “He was half a stride ahead of me, so I just checked my shoul­der and there were a cou­ple of play­ers be­hind me, so I just laid off.

“We’re both mo­bile and can jump up and move the puck and we can both go at any given time. But one of us needs to lay off a lit­tle bit. Our chem­istry is get­ting bet­ter and we’re learn­ing each other’s ten­den­cies and it can only get bet­ter from here.

“It’s to­day’s game. You watch the high­lights and it’s de­fence­men jump­ing up and mak­ing a two-on-two a three-on-two, or a three-on­three a four-on-three, with more op­tions. That’s go­ing to cre­ate a lot more of­fence for us.”

That’s where it’s go­ing to get in­ter­est­ing for the third pair­ing.

Fewer min­utes can mean more ef­fec­tive­ness when you’re still learn­ing the game and don’t have a sea­soned NHL part­ner to lean on and feed off of. Hutton logged 17:09 and 17:13 of ice time in his first two reg­u­lar-sea­son out­ings, a far cry from the 23:09 and 20:00 he played in the first two games a year ago.

Stecher played 13:40 and 12:41 in the first two games this sea­son com­pared to 22:35 and 19:49 in his first two games last year af­ter be­ing re­called from the AHL’s Utica Comets and be­com­ing a fix­ture with Alex Edler on the first pair­ing.

The chal­lenge for Hutton and Stecher is to be as good in their own zone as they have the po­ten­tial to be out of it. Against the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors, who forecheck fe­ro­ciously and em­ploy the 1-3-1 trap, Hutton tried to play the puck be­hind his net in a cru­cial third-pe­riod se­quence. He was stripped and it re­sulted in the ty­ing goal en route to a 3-2 Sen­a­tors shootout win.

“We knew it wasn’t go­ing to be a pretty game,” Hutton said. “They set the trap and sit back and wait for you to make mis­takes.”

Canucks coach Travis Green is a be­liever in the high-risk, high-reward ap­proach be­cause it forces the op­po­si­tion to play in its own zone. And if Hutton and Stecher can take care of busi­ness in their end, the of­fen­sive chances will come.

“They can both de­fend well and Hutton has worked on his de­fen­sive game,” Green said.

“They didn’t have their best games (Tues­day), but that’s all right. That’s part of be­ing a young player, learn­ing how to man­age your min­utes. It’s dif­fer­ent than play­ing 24 min­utes. A young player gets ea­ger when he’s play­ing less than he’s used to. And when things don’t go well, he presses a bit. Hutton and Stecher are ca­pa­ble of de­fend­ing hard enough to win puck bat­tles, which is another com­po­nent of get­ting out of your zone.”

The Sen­a­tors made that tran­si­tion harder, and other teams will take no­tice.

“There has to be a bal­ance be­tween the two of us,” Stecher said. “If one goes (up ice), the other can’t. We have to un­der­stand we were fine against Ed­mon­ton and weren’t good against Ot­tawa. We’re not happy about it and we’re not dwelling on it.

“But if that doesn’t change, changes will be made.”


Ben Hutton is jug­gling the Canucks’ need for de­fence­men to jump into the rush with know­ing when to stay home while part­ner Troy Stecher takes off.


Troy Stecher be­lieves com­mu­ni­ca­tion with part­ner Ben Hutton will be cru­cial to suc­cess in this new Canucks sys­tem.

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