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VANCOUVER — Luca Sbisa had never heard of Ben Hutton before the pair met on the first day of Vancouver Canucks’ training camp.
“I didn’t personally know who he was,” said Sbisa. “Nobody really knew who he was.”
They do now.
The rookie defenceman was one of the surprises of the pre-season with Vancouver, making the team in his first pro camp before adding an assist in his first NHL game in the Canucks’ 5-1 win over the Calgary Flames on opening night.
“(Hutton’s) like a little sponge. He’s pretty quiet, he’s just there listening,” Sbisa said after Friday’s practice. “He’s done a great job coming in and working hard.”
A 22-year-old from Prescott, Ont., Hutton was drafted by Vancouver in the fifth round back in 2012, but played three seasons of college hockey at the University of Maine before signing with the Canucks in March.
Paired with Sbisa on the blue line while also getting minutes on the second power-play unit, Hutton readily admits he didn’t think he would be playing in Vancouver this quickly.
“I don’t exactly know what I expected coming in,” said Hutton, who is poised with the puck on the ice and always sporting a smile off it. “I just wanted to play my game, which is move my feet, jump up in the rush and try and make a few plays out there.
“I’m starting to feel a little bit more comfortable and feel like I belong here.”
The Canucks believed in Hutton so much that they put fellow defenceman Frank Corrado on waivers before he was eventually claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hutton, meanwhile, could have been sent to the AHL without having to clear waivers.
“Last year when we were trying to sign him I was asking ‘How good can this guy be?’ (Scouts) thought he could be a top-4 defenceman down the road,” said Vancouver head coach Willie Desjardins. “But at the same time we didn’t expect him to come in this year. We thought a year in the AHL would probably help him. We’ll keep judging as we go, but so far he’s been good.”
Hutton has patience with the puck, using subtle delays to create space, and has added some much-needed speed and finesse to Vancouver’s attack from the back end. He can also deliver pin-point passes out of the defensive zone, as witnessed by the feed to Jannik Hansen for Vancouver’s first goal against Calgary on Wednesday.
“That’s definitely something I pride myself in,” said Hutton, who will suit up for his second NHL game Saturday when the Canucks host the Flames. “I like to have good outlet passes and quick breakout passes. It makes life easier as a defenceman and for the whole team.”
Hutton had a goal in four outings with the AHL’s Utica Comets last season after scoring nine times and adding 12 assists in 39 games for Maine. He said he felt some nerves in his debut with the Canucks, but calmed himself down after a couple of rough sequences early.
“I remember one of my first shifts I got the puck and I was fumbling it behind the net,” he said. “I was like ‘Wow, just put the nerves behind, don’t think about it, just play hockey.’ After a few shifts it worked out.”
While they had to be introduced on Day 1, Hutton’s new teammates are now keenly aware of who he is and what he brings.
“We’re all cheering for him,” said Sbisa. “We all wanted him to make the team, and now that he’s made it we all want him to do well and carry this thing as far as he can.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
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