Hutton sees great opportunity, potential for success with Sabres
Goalie ready to be a mentor while playing significant roleby Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com
Carter Hutton compiled the best statistics of his six-year career last season as a member of the St. Louis Blues, leading the NHL with a .209 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. The difference from years prior, he said, was simply a matter of opportunity.
Whether he was playing under an established veteran in Pekka Rinne or a promising young goaltender in Jake Allen, Hutton felt that he had been restricted to the role of a backup. That changed last year, when he played so well midway through the season that he was able to gain control of the net.
"I got to play last year, that's probably the easiest way to put it," Hutton said. "…Last year it got to a point where I was playing so well I kind of forced their hand a bit and I was able to run with it a bit more, which I think really helped me to stay more in a rhythm and just play more important games."
Knowing he would have the chance to take on a significant role again this season factored into Hutton's decision to sign a three-year deal with the Sabres when free agency opened on Sunday. Hutton will pair with another promising young goaltender, Linus Ullmark, on Buffalo's NHL roster.
READ: Get to know Carter Hutton
Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has been open regarding the organization's high expectations for Ullmark, announcing at the end of last season that he expected the 24-year-old to be up with the NHL club in the fall. At the same time, he said it would be unfair to expect any young goalie to step in and play a majority of games right away.
In Hutton, Botterill feels the Sabres are getting a goaltender who is prepared to take on the starting job, but who will also aid in Ullmark's development. Speaking on a conference call after signing his deal on Sunday, Hutton sounded up to the challenge.
"What's been expressed to me is I think they want to kind of protect him in the sense that it's going to be a big year for him," Hutton said. "He's a young kid coming up. Playing full time in the AHL is a lot different than playing full time in the NHL.
"I think you just don't want to make any mistakes rushing him. They know that he's their guy, he's the future, they have a lot of faith in them. So, I think my role coming in is play well, step in and help the team win hockey games right away."
Hutton's decision to come to Buffalo was aided by familiarity with people in the organization and a sense of the young talent on the roster, headlined by Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin.
Hutton had three members of the organization as assistant coaches at various stops in his career, having played under head of college scouting Jerry Forton in college at UMass-Lowell, goalie coach Andrew Allen at Rockford in the AHL and head coach Phil Housley during his tenure in Nashville.
He credited Allen with helping him take the necessary steps in his development that eventually led to his establishing himself as an NHL goaltender in Nashville.
"He helped me a lot, just with evolving my game where I was at," Hutton said. "I was pretty raw. I've always been like pretty athletic goalie, I've always had that side of me, that capability. But finding more consistency, he helped me really evolve into just thinking the game, understanding what brought me success."
READ: Allen speaks highly of Hutton
If his comfort with Allen, Forton and Housley made Buffalo appealing, his visit with the organization may have sealed the deal. Hutton met owners and management last week and picked up the sense of a market that was yearning to win, an end to which he felt he could be of assistance.
"With Buffalo, I was obviously their guy, so it gave me a lot of confidence going in there knowing that I could go somewhere they wanted me to succeed," he said. "I'm really excited to join a team like this. They're ready to win and I'm excited to win and help out."