Ben Hutton is like all the new Maple Leafs this week — stuck watching his new team on TV in instead of beside them on the bench.
Hutton, Nick Foligno, Riley Nash and farmhands Stefan Noesen and Antti Suomela are sitting out their various stages of the seven-day Canadian government quarantine — no doubt thankful it was recently reduced from 14 — hoping to help out ASAP.
For Hutton, who was formally introduced to the media on Friday via Zoom, it has been an especially hard wait. So many family and friends in the Brockville-Prescott-Kemptville area of the province are Toronto fans, anxious to see the big defenceman get his chance after the trade with Anaheim on Monday afternoon.
Hutton was on the couch viewing Toronto’s first post-deadline game, an overtime loss in Montreal, then Thursday’s slow start and eventual defeat to Winnipeg. He and the others also stayed put while the Leafs flew to Vancouver on Friday.
“I’ve watched the games, trying to stay busy … it’s been a little different for sure,” Hutton said. “But I like what I’ve been seeing. We haven’t got the points we wanted, but we all know what we’re capabale of. Everyone in the league does. I’m not even in the locker room yet and I know. I’m excited to get in there and meet the guys.”
He’s already acquainted with a couple of Leafs. Morgan Rielly was with him singing the national anthem when Team Canada won gold at the 2016 world hockey championship in Russia.
Hutton was also goalie Jack Campbell’s teammate with the Los Angeles Kings in 2019-20 and might have passed Alex Kerfoot on the draft floor in 2012 when they were a few picks apart.
Hutton also knows the expectations of Leafs Nation for the coming playoff march. He got a good idea of the pressure on a Canadian team to succeed through his four years in Vancouver and the annual visits when Toronto fans packed Rogers Arena.
“The last five days, I’ve been getting texts from a lot of happy campers at home, a lot of Leafs fans,” Hutton said. “Even family members and friends who aren’t Leafs fans are pumped up because they know the (contending) position the Leafs are in.”
But while Hutton wasn’t a Blue and White devotee as a kid, neither did he adopt nearby Ottawa’s colours.
“I’ll be honest, I was a Colorado Avalanche fan,” he admitted. “Growing up, it was Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and guys like that. So, I never really did cheer for the Sens. Which is a good thing, being a Leaf now.”
On paper, the 6-foot-2 left-shooting Hutton can step in for Travis Dermott if a playoff game calls for more brawn than finesse, if an injury doesn’t open a spot sooner. Toronto’s defence has been remarkably injury-free this season, so his debut might be a straight switch, perhaps in a back-to-back situation.
Style-wise, Hutton certainly won’t change what made him effective in the NHL to keep up with a fluid Leafs offence. That said, he thinks he can do better than the five point he’s managed in 34 games, having once attained 25 in a year early in his Vancouver tenure.
“I talked to (head coach) Sheldon Keefe a little bit,” Hutton said. “He said come in, just play your game. No matter who you are or what position you’re in, you have to earn your ice time.”
Hutton, who turns 28 next week, is closing in on 400 regular-season games without a whiff of playoff action.
“That’s every kid’s dream, right?,” he said. “Growing up in Ontario I’ve always dreamed of scoring that big goal in the playoffs. Now, I get a chance to do that.
“We’re a strong offensive team and I want to hop on that and also be a strong penalty-killer. But I’m a defenceman and my first job is to keep the puck out of our end. We’re deep, we can score, it’s a good lineup to look at, the superstar talent to veteran leadership.”
The Ducks are out of the playoffs, so with Hutton being on a one-year deal, this week’s trade was not a shock. One of those wishing him luck was coach Dallas Eakins, a former Leafs assistant and head coach of the Marlies who offered Hutton some contact info to get settled in his new city.
Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas had pursued Hutton as a UFA a year earlier, but he took the Kings offer.
“I’d heard rumblings of Toronto through my agent, but I’m a Leaf now and it has come full circle,” Hutton said
He’s spent a lot of his quarantine working out (the Leafs sent over a stationary bike to maintain his cardio program) and staying in touch with the outside world through FaceTime.
NYLANDER TAKES FLIGHT
While it’s not known when he’ll play on the Maple Leafs coming road trip, William Nylander joined his teammates on Friday’s flight out west.
The right winger was on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list as of April 7 after volunteering that day he was exposed to a possible positive case. That quarantine was to be a minimum of seven days, with coach Sheldon Keefe saying on Thursday that Nylander required one more negative test.
That’s apparently has been settled and now it’s a matter of getting him in a practice or two before he returns to the lineup.
The Leafs begin a revised trip to Vancouver and Winnipeg with games against the Canucks on Sunday and Tuesday.
Also on the voyage, but unlikely to play for a while, is goaltender Frederik Andersen, who has been out almost a month with a suspected lower body injury, but resumed practise this week.