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Waiting for the lottery: is Lane Hutson already the long-awaited superstar?

Tomorrow we’ll finally know whether the Tricolore will win the “Connor Bedard lottery” (8.5%).

If they don’t, perhaps they’ll have the chance to draft Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlson or Will Smith at2nd (8.6%) or3rd (0.3%).

Otherwise, he has an 82.7% chance of drafting5th ( 24.5%), 6th (44%) or 7th( 14.2%).

At these ranks, Michkov could still be available, we hear.

But we’re also hearing that the CH might not be very interested in taking that kind of risk so high for the talented Russian.

But then again, if they don’t draft Bedard, Fantilli, Carlson, Smith or Michkov, who could be described as the “Big 5”, they’ll end up drafting a player whose chances of becoming a superstar would theoretically already be much slimmer.

These include Slovak center Dalibor Dvorsky, Czech winger Eduard Sale and Austrian right-handed defenseman David Reinbacher.

Personally, I wouldn’t put Zach Benson in this category…

Outside the Big 5, my choice would probably be Dvorsky or Reinbacher. Chances are we’ll be talking about them a lot in the coming weeks… To be continued!

[content-adsMy point is that, starting with Dvorsky and Reinbacher, we seem to fall into a category of players similar to Slafkovsky, Suzuki, Caufield and Guhle: they’ll be good, even very good players, even stars, but superstars are much less certain, if not highly improbable.

And a superstar, in the opinion of many recently polled by The Athletic, is what the organization sorely needs.

Of course, you can win the Stanley Cup with O’Reilly, Tarasenko and Pietrangelo. So you don’t necessarily need a superstar to win top honors or to become a superpower.

But in the last 15-20 years, for every win by St-Louis, how many by Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles and Colorado?

That’s right: 12.

The case of the Canadiens
Last December, we wondered whether the CH was destined to become a superpower in the foreseeable future.

At the time, Kirby Dach had yet to show anything at center, but had already made a clear breakthrough on the wing. He was unhesitatingly included among the 6 players worthy of being drafted in the top 15 who were already part of the big club.

Without making an exact science of it, if we look at the core of the last Stanley Cup-winning clubs, say, the clubs of the salary cap era, it takes at least 10 to 12 players of this calibre to present a line-up that can seriously aspire to top honours.

Of the lot, you’d certainly need to count on two top-quality center players, a couple of excellent wing scorers, some excellent defensemen, ideally at least one or two of them at elite level, and a good goalie (at the very least, one who’s hot at the right time).

On offense
Even subtracting Sean Monahan, who is still one of the very good players of the 2013 draft (and who could still return to the club), the CH, with its Suzuki, Dach, Caufield and Slafkovky, is already counting on some convincing elements up front. Then there’s Josh Anderson, who, while not necessarily worthy of the top-15 in his draft, can certainly be part of a winning recipe.

It remains to be seen whether the likes of Sean Farrell, Owen Beck, Felip Mesar and Joshua Roy can be added to the mix. Then, of course, this year’s1st-round picks, if we draft at least one forward or use them to get our hands on the Lafrenière and/or Dubois of this world.

It remains to be seen…
In short, Bedard and company or not, it’s fairly easy to anticipate that the CH will be able to count on at least six top-level forwards within 2-3 years. In theory, at least, this would put the CH forward on target, because, as we all know, a lot can happen between now and then. For example, a Caufield who may have lost his superbness following surgery on his right shoulder, or a Slafkovsky who may expose himself too often to violent contact…

In front of the net
In goal, no matter what we think of Montembeault, Allen, Primeau or Dobes, we don’t have to worry too much about them yet. As we’re seeing once again this year in the playoffs, the era of the “goalie-savior” is well and truly over. We can only hope that someone in the pack – or by way of transaction – will rise to the occasion at the right time. Since the 2005 lockout, the most important thing has been to be able to count on a good core of skaters who make the goalie’s job easier, since the most important thing now is not to lose his team.

The big attacking pieces are gradually falling into place, and the goaltending situation is not a major stress factor.

That leaves the defence.

On defense

While this may still be one of the organization’s strong points, concerns, especially medical ones, are already beginning to emerge.

Guhle, who, according to The Athletics survey, is by far the most exciting prospect in the organization – I admit I don’t understand that one – showed great promise in his rookie year, but his medical history is already a cause for concern. Counting his junior years, this is the third consecutive season in which Guhle has suffered at least one major injury. His knees, shoulders and hands are already compromised.

That’s a lot for a 21-year-old… He’ll have to learn to pick his battles a little more carefully.

Almost the same can be said for Justin Barron, who was also seriously injured in his draft year and, now, twice in as many pro seasons.

Xhekaj, another candidate realistically worthy of the top-15 of his draft (2020) – even if he wasn’t drafted! – has also just suffered a serious shoulder injury, which may force him to take it easier in the coming years…

We don’t know if Matheson, who’s just reached his peak in his late twenties, will still be around in three years’ time when the CH’s window of opportunity could start to open, but it’s a bit the same with him too; lots of injuries over the years…

As for Harris, his more cautious way of playing seems to protect him against big injuries, but nobody really sees him becoming a truly dominant defenseman in the NHL. We’d be very surprised if he ever made the top 15 in his draft…

Although on paper this defensive brigade looks promising and shows great collective and individual potential, the fragility of several of them is already cause for concern.

The guy who’s not there yet
But who’s on the horizon?

Is it the reincarnation of Christ? Is it Elvis emerging from his desert island? Is it bread sliced in skates?

Of course, no one knows yet whether Lane Hutson will be THE savior or the best thing since Suspicious Minds or the reincarnation of sliced bread, but no one can deny his stats in his first year in the NCAA: 48 points and a +25 differential in 39 games.

As has been said over and over again, these stats compare favorably with the best of the last 30-35 years, from Makar to Leetch to the Hughes brothers.

Statistically, Hutson has beaten them all. We’re not talking about two of a kind here. This is the crème de la crème of the United States over the last 30-35 years!

All things considered, his offensive stats are also clearly superior to those of Cole Caufield (36 points and 36 games), a forward, in his first year in Wisconsin!

When they’re in this stratosphere, these stats are usually compelling indicators of very, very, very good things to come. As in the case of all of the above, without exception.

And the good news is that, if the trend continues, Hutson – who has already gained two inches since last summer – will rarely be exposed to violent contact. He learned at an early age to avoid blows and, above all, to defend with his stick instead of his shoulders. For the rest, most of the time, he’s the one with the puck, in full control, while his head, held high, is busy assessing the best option.

It’s hard to find yourself in the infirmary when no one can hit you! In addition to Harris, here’s at least one other who reassures us about his health.

The other good thing is that the Canadiens are starting to play a style that will suit them perfectly when they join the club, which should be in the spring of 2024, at the end of their university season.

As we saw at the end of the season, when the Matheson-led defensive brigade was racking up points by the bucketload, Martin St-Louis and the current staff seem to highly value the offensive involvement of the defensemen. They seem to want to adopt a kind of positionless field hockey, a revolutionary approach.

Nothing could be more natural for Hutson, who regularly becomes his team’s4th forward whenever he gets the chance. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s usually he who creates these chances, often from almost nothing. A little feint of the head on one side, and there he goes on the other while the opposition is still wondering what just happened.

A special player. An ingredient that, despite Matheson’s offensive blossoming, is sorely lacking in the Habs’ recipe, as evidenced by their anemic numerical advantage for too many years now and their low number of goals scored.

However, the Tricolore already seems to be putting everything in place and doing everything right to welcome the young American defenseman with open arms when the time comes. We have every reason to believe that Hutson, like Makar and Hughes – who were also allowed to macerate a little in the NCAA before graduating – will make an immediate impact in the NHL.

Without knowing what the “Bedard lottery” has in store for us, if we had a player to identify right now as the one most likely to take the CH to the next level, we’d have to turn to Hutson.

The organization’s highest superstar potential right now, he’s got it.

After a WJC in which he more often than not stood out to me as the Americans’ best defenseman, we certainly won’t miss his presence at the World Championship, which gets underway next Friday.

If he manages to stand out against adults and professionals, there won’t be many boxes left to tick in his case.

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