Despite a swollen face, defender Lane Hutson had a bright smile, the gold medal around his neck: he was world junior champion.
With the early elimination of Canada a few days earlier, the point of interest of CH fans, as we can guess, shifted to Hutson, one of the team’s main hopes.
Hutson, a late second-round pick by the Canadian in 2022, after Juraj Slafkovsky, Filip Mesar and Owen Beck, did not obtain a point in this final won Friday by the Americans, 6-2 against the Swedes. He concluded the tournament with six assists in seven games.
But it stood out in another way. And his place on the all-star team of the World Junior Championship presented in Sweden surprised no one.
Despite his small size for a defenseman, 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, Hutson was the most important player on the winning team in that tournament. He played 27:20 and his partner Ryan Chesley, two minutes less. It’s also almost ten minutes more than the other four American defenders, a rather incredible feat of arms.
He was called an offensive specialist before this tournament, but this 19-year-old played in all situations, numerical superiority and inferiority, in critical situations to protect a lead late in the game.
The head coach of the American team, David Carle, warned us at the dawn of this championship: Hutson was a much better defensive player than we might have believed.
His speed and flair allowed him to recover a number of pucks along the ramp. His positioning and mobility made him a tough defender to beat one-on-one.
Individual performances at a World Junior Championship obviously do not define a career in the NHL. Ryan Poehling, after all, was awarded tournament MVP a few years ago before becoming a supporting player in the National League.
Alexander Romanov had been smoking hot offensively for Russia, but he is an offensively limited defenseman in the NHL.
We will therefore not make the mistake of qualifying Hutson as a potential Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar or Adam Fox, three small defenders produced like Hutson by the NCAA.
It’s encouraging, however, that this young man stood out not just for his offensive skills – he had 68 points in his first 54 games at Boston University and broke an old Brian Leetch offensive record, after all – but by his game as a whole.
He even came to the defense of a teammate at the end of the match against a much stronger opponent, despite an already bloody mouth. “He’s a dog,” said his captain Rutger McGroarty, a compliment in the circumstances.
Barring a surprising reversal of the situation, Hutson should play a few games in Montreal at the end of the season, after the elimination of the Terriers. We will then be able to better assess its potential.
The Americans thus avenge their failure against the Swedes in the final of the World Under-18 Championship in 2022. That day, goalkeeper Hugo Havelid was smoking hot and Noah Östlund scored two goals. Havelid did not have a good game on Friday. Östlund, a 2022 first-round pick of the Sabres, didn’t score, but he was his team’s best player in the final.
Fifteen players from Sweden and twelve Americans competed in 2022. But not attacker Gabriel Perreault, son of Yanic, former hockey player for the Canadian and the Maple Leafs, among others. Gabriel was born in Sherbrooke, but lived in the United States and was naturalized American.
Much like his father, Gabriel Perreault was often underestimated due to below-average skating. He waited until 23rd overall before being drafted by the Rangers last summer despite recording 132 points, including 53 goals, in just 63 games in the U.S. development program.
Perreault, just 18, like his linemates Will Smith and Ryan Leonard, had three points in the final. The Americans were entitled to an unexpected contribution from their youngest players, which was not the case for the Swedes.
Eleven players could be back next year, including these three. The United States will be tough to beat again next year. Another CH prospect, goalkeeper Jacob Fowler, played three games in this tournament, but gave way to Trey Augustine in the last two games.