Five or more years from now, when NHL experts are putting together a list of the steals of the 2009 NHL entry draft, you just might see the name Alex Hutchings
The Lightning considered Hutchings, a crafty 5-foot-10, 173-pound forward from Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, strongly for the No. 52 pick before selecting Richard Panik
. They were thrilled to see Hutchings still there at No. 93.
Hutchings didn’t disappoint at the Lightning’s Young Guns Camp last month, showing his speed and intelligence all over the rink.
“We really like this kid,” Lightning Director of Player Personnel Jim Hammett said. “All year long, he had a great battle level. His skills have flown under the radar.
“I thought a lot of the time he had to carry the team on his shoulders. He went head-to-head with [Nazem] Kadri and [John] Tavares. There were nights when he was right in the ballpark with those guys. Steven Stamkos
knows him and has spoken very highly of him.”
Tavares went first overall and Kadri seventh.
Hutchings, 18, put up 29 goals and 54 points over 68 games for Barrie in 2007-08 and topped that with 34 and 68 in 63 games for the fifth-place Colts last season. In 14 playoff games those two seasons, he had 12 points. He also had a goal and an assist in the OHL All-Star Classic.
No doubt, his size probably kept him from being picked higher. It doesn’t keep him from going into the corners against bigger players and coming out with the puck.
“There are a lot of guys that are even smaller than me in the NHL,” Hutchings said. “If I see guys doing it, it’s motivation to push myself and not listen to what other people think. I try to be the best I can be on every spot on the ice, to be the full package.”
Hutchings grew up in Burlington, Ontario, recording 100 points in 70 games in his last midget season in 2005-06, then moved on to the Colts for 30 games in 2006-07. He lists Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Mike Richards, all full-package players, as three he tries to pattern his game after the most.
With a team that was three games under .500 and lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, Hutchings was a plus-27. He was plus-7 in 2007-08.
“Our team strives to play good defense,” Hutchings said. “I took that to heart a lot this season. If you want to make it to the next level, you have to be a two-way player as best you can. My coaching staff at Barrie has helped me out a lot there.”
Hutchings, a right-handed shooter, has also shown his versatility offensively. He can play center or wing and both a set-up guy or a goal scorer.
“He can do both, but he’s a real good shooter with a great release,” Hammett said. “He can come off the wall in full motion and get that shot off. That’s a skill. A lot of guys can’t do that and he plays with a lot of grit.”
Lightning Executive Vice President and GM Brian Lawton said Hutchings has a “great mind for the game.”
Hutchings, already a standout skater, said he learned a lot from the power-skating drills at Young Guns Camp that will help him have an advantage in the OHL this season.
The goal for Hutchings is to help bring the Colts back to the top of the league. He said Barrie, about an hour drive from Toronto, is a great hockey environment. The Colts play at the state-of-the-art Molson Centre, which seats 4,200.
“You want to win as many games as you can,” Hutchings said. “We were a bit up and down throughout last season. This will be my fourth year and we should be one of the go-to teams in the league. We have a lot of fourth-year guys coming back, so it should be fun.”