Montreal Canadiens prospects will face a heightened level of scrutiny now that the NHL season is in its final stretch.
That’s not to say Habs draft picks fly under the radar at any point in their junior careers, but with spring comes a renewed sense of hope for fans who support losing teams, and much of that hope is based on the development of key prospects.
Prospects such as Lane Hutson and Owen Beck.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
Canadiens fans are well aware Hutson enjoyed one of the best freshman seasons in NCAA history.
On top of a bevy of well-deserved accolades, Hutson led the Boston University Terriers in scoring thanks to a torrid production pace that saw him earn 15 goals and 33 assists in 39 games.
Given his historically impressive results, there were no guarantees Hutson was going to repeat his performance as a sophomore.
After all, it would be unreasonable to expect a defenceman chosen 62nd overall to once again score 1.23 points per game in the NCAA, let alone improve upon that impressive scoring rate.
But in typical Hutsonian fashion, he did not just repeat his performance, he’s blowing his fantastic first-year results out of the water.
As of mid-February, Hutson has scored 10 goals and 25 assists in just 25 games, resulting in a 1.4 points per game scoring pace.
And it seems like he’s just heating up.
In 10 games since taking home a gold medal for Team USA and being selected for the World Junior Championship All-Star team, Hutson has scored two goals and 13 assists.
Interestingly, Hutson was kept off the scoresheet in two of those games, including a match-up against Boston College, where fellow Canadiens prospect Jacob Fowler stole the show.
It was the first time since November that a goaltender managed to keep both Hutson and top 2024 NHL prospect, Macklin Celebrini, off the score sheet.
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 27, 2024
Despite the heroic effort by Fowler, Hutson has still managed to increase his output in the second half of the season.
It’s what defines the smooth-skating defenceman.
Not only has he proven doubters wrong at every stage of his career, but he also goes out of his way to improve his play on a nightly basis.
Of course, like any player, there are still some aspects to his game that are somewhat worrisome.
Hutson can hold onto the puck for too long in the offensive zone. At times he also overplays the puck while creating time and space for his teammates. And every once in a while, he’ll misread the play, which leads to scoring chances off the rush for his opponents.
But those are quite the nits to pick when discussing a player that has so many positive aspects to his game.
Hutson has the puck on his blade more often than almost any other player in the NCAA. Mistakes are bound to happen. It’s perfectly normal for a puck-moving defenceman.
Ask anyone who has watched him play on numerous occasions this year and they’re likely to confirm that he has improved upon his weaknesses. His defensive play at the World Junior Championship was excellent, and the same can be said about his results with Boston University this season.
There’s a reason why every coach lucky enough to have Hutson in their lineup will end up using him for roughly half the game.
The pros outweigh the cons by a significant margin.
“He controls the tempo so much because he’s out there so much,” said Team USA head coach David Carle. “His decision-making with and without the puck impacts the game at a really high level.”
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 31, 2024
When it comes to Beck, there have been two dominant schools of thought among fans and analysts.
Those who have had an opportunity to watch him play tend to be very confident about his NHL aspirations, while those who rely solely on a cursory examination of his Hockey DB page tend to think he lacks the offensive punch needed to succeed.
There’s some merit to the concerns about his scoring, at least from a general hockey standpoint.
Players need to reach a certain level of production in the CHL or NCAA if they’re to have a legitimate chance of earning a roster spot in the NHL.
In that vein, Beck’s scoring pace last year, 66 points in 60 games, was decent, but far from impressive.
It did not matter that he was involved in a midseason trade, that he was primarily tasked with playing a shutdown role, that he was a second-round pick, that he was distracted by a late request by Hockey Canada to join the WJC roster during the holidays, or that he also made his NHL debut after an emergency call-up by the Montreal Canadiens.
A trade alone is enough to derail a season, especially for a young player, but there’s very little room for nuance when it comes to Habs prospects.
Some Montreal Canadiens fans simply wanted to see more, full stop.
But when it comes down to hockey analysis, the devil is in the details.
Now that Beck is no longer solely a defensive specialist and is playing on a team where there are a few other impact players in the lineup, his production has predictably improved.
Thanks to an impressive nine goals and 15 assists in just 15 games, Beck has scored 1.6 points per game with his new team, a massive improvement on the 1.2 points per game he produced prior to the trade. He’s also enjoyed four games in which he registered three points or more, including a six-point effort against the Windsor Spitfires in his debut with the Spirit.
Saginaw is set to host the Memorial Cup this season, which means Beck will once again feature in the famous tournament, as he did last year after he helped the Peterborough Petes capture a surprising OHL championship.
There are decent odds it will be the last games he plays in the Canadian Hockey League, providing him with the perfect springboard on which to make the jump to professional hockey.
— Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey) January 11, 2024
All Montreal Canadiens prospect statistics via the NCAA and the CHL. Current as of February 11.