In his first three games in the Stars’ lineup, Hutchinson has been paired with veteran Darryl Sydor and has performed well. While averaging 14:28 of ice time, he has played solidly at both ends of the ice, registering a +1 plus/minus rating. He’s also fired seven shots on goal already, even leading the Stars with four in his first game, a 3-1 victory over Calgary last Tuesday.
“I’ve just been trying to keep it simple,” said Hutchinson, 28, who skated in his 100th career NHL game in Friday’s 2-1 shootout win over Colorado. “Darryl’s been a great help, he’s a veteran guy that can help me a lot and he’s out there talking and helping me out as much as he can. I’m getting to know the systems and getting to know the guys and do everything so quick. It’s been nice to get into games and it’s been easier that way, I think, than doing practice.”
“He’s fitting in well,” Sydor said. “Obviously, it’s a whole new system for him and a whole new team and it takes some time to build that chemistry, but I think the first couple of games have been okay.”
With defender Sergei Zubov sidelined with a lower body injury, the Stars needed another defenseman and sought out Hutchinson, who won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s Most Outstanding Defenseman last season with Hartford when he scored 18 goals and 64 points in 67 games. After spending the first 20 games this season with AHL Norfolk, Tampa Bay’s top minor league affiliate, where he collected one goal and 14 points, Hutchinson was recalled to the Lightning Nov. 28 and suited up for two games with them before the deal was made. The Stars gave up prospect winger Lauri Tukonen, who is playing in Finland, in the swap.
“We needed a defenseman and he’d been a top player in the American League, so it was just a good opportunity for him to come in here with our injury situation,” noted Stars co-General Manager Les Jackson. “He’s a big guy that moves the puck and he likes to shoot. In today’s game, those are good attributes to have.”
“He’s a tall, lanky guy who takes up some space, a good puck-mover, has a very good reputation coming out of the American League, was the defenseman of the year there,” added Stars coach Dave Tippett. “He’s a guy that we think will fit in with us. He’s a right shot, and losing Zubov along with (defenseman Philippe Boucher, who was traded to Pittsburgh for Sydor), so he’s a right shot that fits in with us.”
Hutchinson, a second-round selection (54th overall) of the Nashville Predators in the 1999 Entry Draft, has also played with Nashville and Carolina in the NHL, suiting up for 36 games with the Hurricanes in 2005-06, the year they won the Stanley Cup.
He has flashed offensive abilities throughout his career, particularly last season in the AHL, when he notched 13 power play goals, and had a glorious scoring opportunity Friday against Colorado among his three shots on goal. With 5:25 left in the second period when he joined the rush and ripped a one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle that Avalanche goaltender Peter Budaj made a big save on.
“I think that as I get more comfortable here, I’ll feel more comfortable jumping up,” Hutchinson said. “I just wanted to feel comfortable in the system and play well defensively and not give anything up before doing all the offensive stuff.”
“He’s got a good shot and he’s got that offensive mind mentality,” Sydor added, “so it’s just a matter of working together in practice a little bit more, moving the puck, and feeling comfortable with each other.”
Hutchinson, a 6-foot-2, 206-pound native of Evanston, Ill., had previously skated with two Stars players, sharing a locker room with defenseman Doug Janik with the US National Team Development Program as a teenager back in 1997-98. He also played with center Toby Petersen
at the 2007 World Championships for Team USA, a tournament in which he scored three goals and an assist in seven games.
“It’s nice to have someone in the locker room that you knew before, coming to a new organization,” Hutchinson acknowledged. “I knew (Janik), I knew Toby, I played with him at a World Championship, both good guys, so to come in here, it’s easier to get involved and meet everybody and just get in tune.”
Janik welcomed his old teammate to town and was glad to share the ice with him again.
“Obviously, he’s a very good player,” Janik said. “We played together quite a few years ago, but he’s good offensively, he moves the puck around and can put up some points on the power play and he should be a good fit.”
For Hutchinson, who played at Michigan State from 1998-2001, just the opportunity to return to the NHL, and in particular to a respected organization like the Stars, was a very welcome turn of events.
“I’m excited, I’m happy to be here and I’ve heard nothing but good things out of the organization,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve been a lot of places the last few years, just got to try and fit in as best I can, learn from other guys on what they do, work hard and keep your mouth shut at the beginning.”
So far, the transition’s going just fine.