Less may mean more for Hut­ton and Stecher

Vancouver Sun - - SPORTS - BEN KUZMA bkuzma@post­media.com SEE RE­LATED VIDEO AT VAN­COU­VERSUN.COM

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 in­de­ci­sion in his game that smacked of a sopho­more slump.

Still, Hut­ton man­aged five goals on a back end that couldn’t stay healthy and couldn’t find the net with just a col­lec­tive 23 goals. And he never lost his trade­mark, glasshalf-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 re­called 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 give 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 blue-liner as­sists (24) and was third in points (25) in 201516, 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,” said Hut­ton. “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.

“It’s to­day’s game. You watch the high­lights and it’s de­fence­men jump­ing up and mak­ing a 2-on-2 a 3-on-2 or a 3-on-3 a 4-on-3, with more op­tions. That’s go­ing to cre­ate a lot more of­fence for us.”

Yet that’s where it’s go­ing to get in­ter­est­ing de­fen­sively as a third pair­ing.

Fewer min­utes can mean more ef­fec­tive­ness when you’re still learn­ing the game and don’t have a sea­soned Na­tional Hockey League part­ner to lean on and feed off of. Hut­ton logged 17:09 and 17:13 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 own 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,” said Hut­ton. “They set the trap and sit back and wait for you to make mis­takes.”

JEFF VINNICK/ NHLI VIA GETTY IM­AGES/FILES

Ben Hut­ton, left, hug­ging Reid Boucher, fin­ished sec­ond among rookie blue-lin­ers with 24 as­sists two sea­sons ago.

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