NASHVILLE -- When Carter Hutton signed with the Nashville Predators as an unrestricted free agent over the summer, all he wanted was a guaranteed chance to stay in the NHL.
Hutton spent last season with the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that solidified its goaltending this summer by signing Corey Crawford to a multi-year contract and bringing in veteran Nikolai Khabibulin to be the backup. Unfortunately for him, the Thunder Bay, Ontario native was the odd man out.
But Hutton, 27, never envisioned himself being the guy in Nashville these days. Not with Pekka Rinne firmly entrenched in the Predators' crease. But with Rinne's recent hip infection and consequential surgery that has sidelined Nashville's No. 1 goaltender for a minimum of four weeks, Hutton has been thrust into the starting role.
"You never want it to happen like this, especially to a guy like Pekka," said Hutton, who will make his third start and fourth appearance for Nashville on Saturday when the Predators host the St. Louis Blues. "He's been a really good friend to me since I've been here. Kind of took me under his wing. You don't wish that on anybody, but opportunities come in weird ways. That's why they brought me here. They thought they had faith in me and I believe in myself. When you get the chance, no matter how it comes, whether it was one start every 10 games or now playing a bunch, you've got to be ready for it and just take advantage of it."
Hutton, who signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $550,000 in July, is 2-0-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average and .959 save percentage. With both of his wins coming against the Winnipeg Jets, he has expressed his gratitude for the opportunity he got in Chicago playing for the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. But now he is getting the opportunity to shine on the big stage while trying to keep the Predators (6-4-1) above water.
"I really developed in Rockford," Hutton said. "They played me a lot and I had a chance to be up with [Chicago]. This just kind of came up and it was a situation I really couldn't turn down. With my age and being unrestricted and all that, I was given a guaranteed chance to be on the team and a chance to play was really important to me. Just being able to be up and getting the chance to play was pretty much the main reason."
Predators coach Barry Trotz, for one, is glad Hutton made the switch. Although he's been sure to point out that Rinne's job as the team's franchise goaltender is not in danger.
"I just talked to him last night," Trotz said of Hutton Saturday morning. "I know he's around and I'm going to talk to him [some more]. In the long run, health is the most critical thing. He understands. It's not what he wants, but life is that way. He'll be better for it and we'll be better when he [Rinne] gets back."
Hutton will make his fifth overall NHL appearance, and strangely enough, tonight will be his third time facing the Blues. While with the Blackhawks, Hutton started his first NHL game last year on the final day of the regular season at St. Louis. In his first game with the Predators, he relieved Rinne on opening night this season in St. Louis.
"We weren't planning to use him against St. Louis in the opener, but he played pretty well when he went in," Trotz said. "Those are the two teams [Blues and Jets] he knows a lot about."
Both teams will stick with the same lineups they used in their previous games, including the Blues, who dropped a 3-2 overtime game at home Friday night against the Vancouver Canucks. But coach Ken Hitchcock will swap centers, moving Vladimir Sobotka up to play between Magnus Paajarvi and Vladimir Tarasenko while Derek Roy -- who will play in his 600th NHL game Saturday -- skates between Brenden Morrow and Ryan Reaves.
"He was the best player on the ice for both teams," Hitchcock said of Sobotka, who scored in the third period Friday. "That's why he's moving up the ladder today. He's earned the right. That's the internal competition of your team. He's earned the right to play up the ladder right off the bat. If he's a guy that plays 18-20 minutes tonight, then he's earned it, quite frankly."
Here are the projected lineups for the Blues and Predators:
Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Magnus Paajarvi - Vladimir Sobotka - Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Brenden Morrow - Derek Roy - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Jordan Leopold - Roman Polak
Scratched: Adam Cracknell, Ian Cole, Maxim Lapierre (suspended)
Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Patric Hornqvist
Gabriel Bourque - Matt Cullen - Craig Smith
Filip Forsberg - David Legwand - Nick Spaling
Matt Hendricks - Paul Gaustad - Eric Nystrom
Seth Jones - Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm - Kevin Klein
Victor Bartley - Ryan Ellis
Scratched: Viktor Stalberg, Rich Clune
Injured: Roman Josi (concussion), Pekka Rinne (hip)