Pat Hickey: Canadiens fans eagerly hoping Lane Hutson's team loses

The defenceman could join Montreal once his Boston University team is out of the NCAA tournament.

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Fans of the Boston University hockey team are cheering for the Terriers to win two regional playoff games this weekend in Sioux Falls and reach the Frozen Four next month in St. Paul.

Hockey fans in Montreal are hoping BU loses one of the regional games.

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The push/pull between the two fan bases is all about BU star defenceman Lane Hutson. Canadiens fans are hoping for an early exit in the NCAA championships because that would mean an early arrival for Hutson in Montreal.

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Hutson has captured the imagination of Canadiens fans since he was drafted in the second round (62nd overall) in 2022. He was a star with the U.S. National Development Team, but he fell in the draft because of his size. He was 5-foot-8 and 152 pounds when the Canadiens drafted him. He is currently listed as 5-foot-10 and 162 pounds.

Hutson’s skill and vision have fans salivating at the idea of having him quarterback the power play, but he still must prove that he can handle any guy named Tkachuk in front of the crease. He can look Norris Trophy candidates like Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes eye-to-eye, but he gives away 20 pounds to each of them.

It’s a given that Hutson will forego his final two years of college eligibility to sign with the Canadiens when his season ends. It’s an opportunity for both parties to become acquainted so that Hutson will feel more comfortable when he attends his first NHL training camp in September. As a bonus, Hutson will burn the first year of his entry-level contract, bringing him one year closer to eventual free agency.

Ideally, you would like the test drive to be as long as possible and that’s where the playoff results become a factor. If BU loses one of the games this weekend, Hutson could be practising with the Canadiens early next week and there is the possibility he could play as many as nine NHL games.

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But the Terriers are favoured to come out of the Sioux Falls regional. They are ranked No. 2 in the nation behind crosstown rival Boston College and, if form holds, there will be a significant delay in Hutson’s availability.

Because the NCAA doesn’t want a conflict with the basketball Final Four, there is a two-week gap between the regionals and the Frozen Four, which is scheduled for April 11 and 13. That means Hutson would be limited to Montreal’s final two games of the season, an away-and-home series against Detroit April 15-16.

A goalie in an Eagles jersey reaches back toward the corner of the net to stop a puck
Boston College goaltender Jacob Fowler (1) makes a save on Boston University during the third period of the Hockey East championship game March 23 in Boston. Photo by Barry Chin /The Boston Globe via AP

The other guys: Hutson is one of six Canadiens prospects in the NCAA tournament and the only other player with a pro contract awaiting is his BU teammate Luke Tuch. A second-round pick in 2020, Tuch was the Hockey East player of the week in the final week of the regular season, but that was the high point of a season that saw him collect nine goals and 28 points in 36 games. The Canadiens have until Aug. 1 to sign Tuch, who could be a two-way depth player in Laval.

Boston College grabbed the No. 1 ranking on the strength of a 3-1 record in head-to-head meetings with BU. One of the keys to the Eagles’ success was freshman goaltender Jacob Fowler, who was picked by the Habs in the third round last June. Fowler, who stopped 34 shots in a 6-2 win over BU in last weekend’s Hockey East final, is one of the 10 semifinalists for the Mike Richter Award, which goes to the top goaltender in U.S. college hockey.

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Freshman Sam Harris is the left winger on third-ranked Denver’s top line. A fifth-round draft choice in 2022, he had 13 goals and seven assists with a plus-13 rating.

Rhett Pitlick, a fifth-round pick in 2019, is the leading scorer for eighth-ranked Minnesota, with 19 goals and 35 points. Sophomore Luke Mittlestadt, a seventh-rounder last June, is a second-pair defenceman with the Gophers. He has two goals, 17 assists and a plus-13 rating.

Jake Allen stands on the ice in a Devils jersey
Jake Allen #34 of the New Jersey Devils prepares to play against the Winnipeg Jets at Prudential Center on March 21 in Newark, N.J. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

Allen gives Devils hope: Goaltender Jake Allen is one of the reasons why the New Jersey Devils are still alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Allen, who went from the Canadiens to the Devils at the trade deadline, made 42 saves, including 25 in the first period, to lead the Devils to a 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday.

Before Friday night’s game in Buffalo, Allen had a 4-2-0 record in New Jersey with a .925 save percentage and a 2.51 goals-against average.

Allen is not a rental — he has one year remaining on the contract he signed with Montreal — and his performance to date should give him the inside track on the No. 1 job next fall.

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