The Los Angeles Kings already made one depth defensive signing, signing former San Jose Shark Joakim Ryan to a one-year deal in July. Ryan provided an intriguing, NHL-experienced option to stash as a seventh defenseman, but he opened camp skating alongside Drew Doughty. With Derek Forbort’s back injury seeming more nebulous by the day — he hasn’t even resumed skating yet — Rob Blake is clearly looking for a back-up plan.
And while early quotes from Blake seemed to indicate that they’d let the young players compete to earn a spot, he also went and made another depth signing. Just in case.
Defenseman Ben Hutton signed a one-year deal, confirmed by the team last night. Hutton’s contract carries a $1.5 million cap hit for the Kings. Per Cap Friendly, this puts the Kings at the maximum of 50 contracts, so any future acquisitions would need to involve a player going the opposite way.
Hutton, a fifth round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played four seasons with the Vancouver Canucks after completing his college career with the University of Maine. He has 276 NHL games under his belt and has recorded 70 total points (11 goals, 59 assists).
Hutton had a promising rookie campaign in 2015-16, and then a dreadful season the next year, and then a bit of a resurgence the next year and — you can see where we’re going with this. Hutton’s career has been up and down ever since essentially making the jump from the NCAA to the NHL.
Hutton had an average of 22:21 time on ice during the 2018-19 season. At five-on-five play, Hutton was second only to Troy Stecher on a team which dressed fifteen total different defensemen during the season. The Canucks, who have struggled on defense for years, did an overhaul on their blue line, moving Erik Gudbranson and Derrick Pouliot, acquiring Jordie Benn and Tyler Myers, and essentially handing a well-deserved spot to Quinn Hughes. The Canucks chose not to offer Hutton a contract, sending him to free agency.
All because Hutton played big minutes doesn’t necessarily mean he should have been playing them, though. In conversation with Nucks Misconduct site manager Kent Basky, it seems like the best comparison for Hutton is Derek Forbort, who he could potentially be filling in for. Hutton isn’t a player who does any one thing particularly well, and on an elite team, he’d probably be on the third pairing. But neither the Canucks nor the Kings are anything approaching elite, and thus, Hutton plays up a little more than you’d want him to.
Hutton is known as a good skater who can help move the puck up the ice. Earlier in his career, he was thought of as more of an offensive defenseman, and while that hasn’t translated to the NHL level yet, the potential is there.
In a rebuilding year, it would perhaps make more sense to see what the younger players already in the Kings’ system could do, but at $1.5 million, and with plenty of cap space, this isn’t a move that comes with tremendous risk for the Kings. They gain additional NHL experience on the back end and, if necessary, would be able to bury most of Hutton’s contract in the minors (if he didn’t get picked up on waivers) in case the experiment doesn’t work.