Orono, Maine -- Long before he scored the game-winning goal in Friday's 2-0 victory over Vermont, Maine sophomore defenseman Ben Hutton was having a huge impact on the game. Hutton's positive effect on the Black Bears hockey team has become a continuing trend.
The Prescott, Ontario native quietly put up a very good freshman campaign, but was overlooked due to some of the bigger name players having success at the Boston schools, and because of Maine's struggles on the ice.
There will be no flying under the radar for Hutton this season. The Vancouver Canucks draft pick has tallied three goals and two assists in eight games played, but it's his all-around game that continues to dazzle.
"He's a special player," said first year Maine head coach Red Gendron, who knows a thing or two about elite defensive players from his experience in the New Jersey Devils organization.
At times Friday night it seemed as if Hutton never left the ice. He's undoubtedly Maine's go-to-guy on defense, and his ice time reflects that. "Ben Hutton played like a horse tonight," said Gendron.
"Coach put me out there a lot tonight. I have to give credit to our coaching staff and our trainers to have me conditioned well enough to do that. It felt good," said Hutton, who played junior hockey for the Nepean Raiders in the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL).
That was particularly true on the penalty kill where in a third period sequence he single-handedly cleared the defensive zone three different times. "He's very, very good defensively and very strong," said Gendron.
A big part of Hutton's game is his ability to transition the puck up ice. He has deceptively good speed and sees the ice well. "He's very, very good offensively. He can pick up the puck, and it doesn't seem like he's moving his feet that fast, but somehow he creates separation between himself and the opponent," said Gendron.
Hutton has cut down on some of the turnovers that plagued him as a rookie when he sometimes tried to do too much with the puck.
"Aside from the first weekend at St. Lawrence where he tried to do too much and got himself into trouble, he's been very good in all the other games we've played," said Gendron.
All three of Hutton's goals this season have been quick wrist shots, including last night's game-winning tally with 4:44 to play in the third period. Dallas Stars prospect and fellow sophomore Devin Shore has assisted on all three of Hutton's markers.
The two have great chemistry on the power play and have worked on some set plays designed by the new coaching staff. "Coach showed us that at the start of the year. It's a really nice play. It was a nice play by Shore," said Hutton.
Gendron knows what an important asset Hutton is to the team and believes that the success of the team will be based partially on his young defenseman's ability to continue to progress on a nightly basis.
"If he keeps improving, we have a much better chance to be a good team. Players like Ben Hutton are difference makers. He was all of that tonight," said Gendron.
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.