Lane Hutson and young Canadiens exposed to a moment they should hope to create

Lane Hutson NHL debut scaled e1713246768861

That scene in Detroit on Monday night is something the Montreal Canadiens should remember.

It should be emblazoned on their young minds forever, how they would like to have something like that at the Bell Centre very soon, perhaps a year from now.

The fans at Little Caesars Arena — a building that is in its seventh season but has yet to be the venue of anything remotely like this — going ballistic after the Red Wings scored four unanswered goals to keep their playoff hopes alive. Their young, budding star Lucas Raymond scored the tying and winning goals. Their big summer free agent signing J.T. Compher scored twice to keep the Red Wings in the game. Their big summer trade acquisition Alex DeBrincat scored to bring them within a goal.

All of it is relatable to what the Canadiens want for themselves in the near future, and they should remember what they saw and hate that they were on the wrong end of it.

“You have to understand if we want to get to where we want to be eventually, these are the games we have to get comfortable playing in and learn how to play with a lead a little bit better,” Brendan Gallagher told reporters in Detroit. “It’s a lot of one-goal losses this year, and it makes you optimistic we can turn things around going into next season.”

Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis has been able to accept losses like these as growing pains all season, and it’s normal. He often refers to staying sane, and this is one way to do that during a trying season in the middle of a rebuild. He knows where the Canadiens are as a team, and that’s why he can have a level-headed response after watching his team blow a 4-1 lead and lose in overtime in a playoff-style game.

There is an expiry date on that level of tolerance, and perhaps that date is Tuesday, but for now, his response is perfectly measured and appropriate.

“I knew we’d have to hold it down in the third,” St. Louis said. “They had a push, it’s normal, and it’s a lot of skill coming back all the time, especially in overtime. We did some good things. They hit a lot of posts, too. We still could have come away with the win. We had a good chance right before their goal, too.”

Let’s talk about that chance because it came from the guy who needs to remember what he saw in Detroit the most.

That would be Lane Hutson, who had a great NHL debut with a bit of everything sprinkled in, including being on the ice in overtime with a chance to end the game for the Canadiens and then having to sprint back and come up short in stopping the pass from Dylan Larkin that set up Raymond for the overtime winner.

No one got a better view of it than Hutson.

The things Hutson did in this game with the puck on his stick were impressive, but they were hardly a surprise.

Hutson’s ability to impact a game with the puck has never been in question, even at the NHL level. His shiftiness and deception are world-class, and he consistently showed that part of his game is ready for the NHL. Hutson working his way into the slot for a grade-A scoring chance in overtime in that clip above is one example of what he did regularly most of the night.

And while he had some defensive mistakes — the first Compher goal was on Hutson being caught a bit too high in the defensive zone and leaving Compher open — there were several instances where Hutson showed his feet could compensate for his size defensively.

Like here on the aforementioned Compher attempting to enter the Canadiens’ zone.

Or here where he maintains a good gap on Larkin, one of the best skaters in the NHL, as he’s entering the Canadiens’ zone.

Or here where Hutson shows a bit of everything, setting up Jake Evans for an excellent scoring chance off the faceoff, jumping up to maintain offensive zone possession on Robby Fabbri, and then getting back on Fabbri, winning a race to a puck and knocking it away from danger.

“I’ve got to execute better on one,” Evans told reporters in Detroit. “I don’t think he knows me yet that I’m not the shooter on the team.”

But overall, it was not the skill or the defensive play that was most impressive. It was the total and utter lack of fear in Hutson’s game. This is in the first period. Yes, he already had his first career assist on his second NHL shift at this point, which helps the confidence, but look at the lack of hesitation jumping into the play.

Adding to the lack of fear was that Hutson was facing one of his childhood idols in the game. Though he was born in Western Michigan, Hutson grew up largely around Chicago, and Patrick Kane was his guy.

A smile crept across Hutson’s face when asked about facing Kane after the game. It made the night that much more special.

We met with Hutson at the 2022 NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, and even back then, the confidence he displayed in his NHL debut was evident. He arrived at the combine armed with a report from an endocrinologist that his bone age was younger than his actual age, and that he would continue to grow longer than most kids his age. In reality, this was a suggestion from his parents and advisors, it was not something he cared too much about.

“I didn’t look too much into it, but I obviously respect what they have to say, and they thought it would be a good idea,” Hutson said then. “I’m not done growing, so it’s good that teams know that. But for me, I’m trying to still play the same way and see what happens.”

He was much more comfortable talking hockey, and even back then he was talking like someone made to play for St. Louis.

“If I’m going to get a puck, I usually take a glance and get a vision of what’s happening before I even touch the puck,” Hutson said. “Then I’ll have an idea of what I want to do, but then there’s also seven different options — eight different options — that I could do. I usually go with one of the first options I see, and then if that option closes, I’ll go to my next option.

“The options are always there if you see the options, and I feel I do a pretty good job of putting myself in a spot where I have those options.”

But when it came to Kane and Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith and the other Chicago Blackhawks greats he grew up admiring, one thing stood out to Hutson back in Buffalo.

“All I ever wanted was what they have,” he said, “Stanley Cups and playing in those big-time moments in playoff hockey.”

On Monday night, Hutson got to witness a big-time moment in what amounted to playoff hockey for Kane and the Red Wings. The Canadiens can only hope he will remember it the same way he remembered those Blackhawks memories, and it drives his desire to help them create something similar in Montreal one day soon.

(Photo of Lucas Raymond scoring the overtime winner against Lane Hutson: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

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