NCAA DI Men's Hockey

Canadiens Prospect Lane Hutson's Historic Freshman Season At BU In Context

Canadiens Prospect Lane Hutson's Historic Freshman Season At BU In Context

Lane Hutson has helped propel Boston University to the Frozen Four with one of the most remarkable freshman seasons for a defenseman in NCAA history.

Apr 4, 2023 by Chris Peters
Canadiens Prospect Lane Hutson's Historic Freshman Season At BU In Context

Lane Hutson is not going to win the Hobey Baker, he may not even win the Tim Taylor Award as National Rookie of the Year. Even without the hardware amid a crowded class of high-achieving freshmen, the Boston University defenseman’s 2022-23 season has been one for the ages thanks to a level of production not seen from a freshman defenseman in 40 years in the NCAA.

Hutson’s heroics have helped put the Terriers in position to compete for a national championship. BU will play No. 1 overall Minnesota in the first national semifinal at the Men’s Frozen Four Thursday at 5 p.m. ET in Tampa.

During that game, the 19-year-old blueliner will play likely 25 or more minutes, jumping over the boards almost every other shift and making his team that much more dangerous when he’s on the ice. He is one of the most dynamic playemakers, not just among defensemen, but among all skaters in the college game today. 

His ability to create time and space with deceptive puck skills and high-end hockey sense has made him one of the most dangerous players on the ice at any given time, which in turn has made the points pile up for the undersized blueliner.

Hutson is the most productive U19 NCAA defenseman since Craig Redmond had 54 points in 1982-83, which is the record for that age peer group. He is currently third on the list, one point behind No. 2 Curt Giles and recently passed Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch, with 48 points in 38 games for BU.

Listed at 5-foot-10 and 161 pounds, which is up in both categories from his draft year, Hutson does not fit the profile of a team’s No. 1 defenseman. Certainly not one that plays the minutes he does. In fact, there might not be another defenseman in the game today to truly make a one-to-one comparison to Hutson. He actually looks more like Johnny Gaudreau than say Quinn Hughes, which has been a frequent comp. Coincidentally, Hutson has four more points than Gaudreau did at the same age while playing down Commonwealth Avenue at Boston College.

The points are one thing, but the fact that Hutson plays massive minutes and seemingly never comes off the ice, especially in the biggest games, may be the most impressive thing about his season.

“The one thing that stands out every day is his competitiveness, how hard he competes defensively,” said BU head coach Jay Pandolfo. “At the start of the year, his gaps weren’t great, he didn’t close enough. He’s improved in all those areas. He does a lot of video work."

That extra work has clearly paid off as Hutson has played some of his best hockey late in the season.

At the Hockey East tournament, Hutson played 39:06 against Providence in the semifinal one night, then played over 33 minutes against Merrimack in the Hockey East Championship the next day. His last shift in the conference final ended with Hutson scoring the overtime-winning goal in the Hockey East championship game. Despite playing over 70 minutes of intense playoff hockey in 24 hours, Hutson barely looked like he broke a sweat.

He has not played fewer than 20 minutes in a game throughout the season with the Terriers, relied on in any situation and especially late in close games.

“He’s trying to get better every single day," Pandolfo said. "He cares so much about winning.”

No one is going to confuse Hutson for being a shut down defenseman, but to Pandolfo’s point, he doesn’t simply go out there and wait for the puck. He’s engaged in battles, works hard to dispossess his opponents of the puck and can be a thorn in the side of his opposition with how he gets under bigger forwards and disrupts their momentum even if he can’t knock them back off the puck like a bigger defenseman would. 

Clearly, however, the offensive elements of Hutson’s game are why he has a chance to make it in the NHL. He has been a goal-scoring threat from the back end all season, leading all NCAA defensemen with 15 goals. Five of those have been game-winners and all but two have come at even strength. 

The goal total has actually been a bit of a surprise as Hutson is such a tremendous passer, but he continually puts himself in positions to find the net and there's basically nowhere in the offensive zone he can't or won't go. The green light is always on because Hutson always makes good plays.

While Hutson will not win the Hobey as he was not part of the Hobey Hat Trick announced last week, he has outproduced all but three prior Hobey Baker-winning defensemen and is just one point off of the total Cale Makar had in his Hobey Baker season as a sophomore at UMass. Hutson may well pass him at the Frozen Four, especially if BU finds a way to advance. And keep in mind, many of these Hobey Winners were much older than Hutson when they took home the hardware.

No one has ever doubted Hutson’s skill. He is dynamic and one look at him on the ice tells the story of a player that is uncommon by just about every measure. It turns out, it’s the measurables that saw him drop to the second round of the NHL Draft and why, just as has been the case his entire career, there’s a lingering doubt about his ability to play one of the most demanding positions at the highest levels of the game.

The thing about Hutson is, the doubts have been there all along and he has yet to shatter those doubts at every level he’s been at. But to do what he's done at the collegiate level, where he's regularly playing against much bigger and stronger competition, all of the sudden the doubts about his ability to stay on this trend dampen. They'll never altogether go away until he can prove it at the highest level, but the concerns get a little quieter.

Looking at the long line of NHL defensemen that have passed through the college ranks, including two recent Norris Trophy winners in Makar and Adam Fox, and Hutson’s freshman numbers have been better than literally all of them. 

It’s not to say he’ll be a better pro or that he’s a better prospect at this stage, but the fact that he had a better statistical season than all of them is not nothing. Points are not a perfect predictor of future success, but they do allow us to put this particular season into greater context and also allows us to illustrate just how special this year has been.

The table below features a number of current notable NHL defensemen and the point totals they recorded in their own freshman campaigns at the NCAA level.

*Hanifin and Werenski accelerated their schooling to enter college at 17.

It’s remarkable to look at, seeing Hutson so far ahead of so many prominent names. But what can we ultimately take out of this special year?

A season like the one Hutson has had catches a lot of attention, as it should. Many wondered how he would manage the transition to college against the older, stronger, more experienced players. The expectation was that he’d do quite well thanks to his elite hockey sense and dynamic puck skills, but to have this kind of season was nothing anyone could have seen coming.

While Canadiens fans may be drooling over the results of the player the Habs took 62nd overall last summer, patience is still needed. Hutson did grow slightly taller, but there’s still a long way to go in the physical strength department in order to put him in the best position to succeed.

That’s why the general consensus among scouts and college hockey observers is that Hutson should be back for his sophomore season in 2023-24. The era of one-and-done defensemen is gone for the most part in college hockey. Most players that enter the NCAA anymore are staying a minimum of two years. All of the players on the list above with the exception of Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin stayed for two NCAA seasons before embarking on their NHL careers.

There’s not much point in rushing him for Montreal. Allowing Hutson to continue to build strength, remain a leader and play big minutes at BU buys both him and the organization some more development time to reassess what his timeline will look like. There’s no question this season has been exceptionally encouraging, but it shouldn't materially change the timeline of his arrival as a professional.

On top of that, BU is poised to bring in one of its best recruiting classes in the last few years highlighted by 2024 NHL Draft top prospect Macklin Celebrini and 2023 first-round candidate Tom Willander, among others. There’s a chance for them to remain especially competitive in 2023-24 and Hutson would be in the middle of all of it.

What he has done this season bends our expectations of what’s possible, not just for a defenseman that looks like him, but for any freshman in college hockey. Defying the odds and shattering expectations, however, seems to be Lane Hutson's default setting.