Covering professional athletes for years, I've always been intrigued by the fine line between ``making it'' and not.
And one of the things I have found is that very skilled players who play at the highest level have to have a lot of talent and a little bit of luck. Because if you want to play at the highest level in the best league in hockey, you have to be very, very good, and you have to get the opportunity to show you are very, very good.
If you don't make it that the top level, you can slide down and try to become a role player, but there is a certain type of player that simply is made for the top level and his play doesn't translate well when he forced to play in reduced minutes. Jon Sim, to me is one of those players. And maybe Andrew Hutchinson is too.
There is no doubting Hutchinson's talent.
He had a stellar career at Michigan State University and has been a top-level AHL defenseman for several seasons. He helped lead Milwaukee to the 2004 Calder Cup with five goals and 11 assists in 22 playoff games, and he was named the AHL's defenseman of the year in 2007-08 when he had 18 goals and 46 assists for 64 points in 67 games with Hartford.
And yet he has not been able to break through as a top-level defenseman in the NHL. He was drafted by Nashville 54th overall in 1999 and appeared to be a sure-thing prospect with the Predators. They moved him to Carolina in 2005, and he was a nice role player there, picking up three goals and eight assists in 36 games in 2005-06, the year the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. However, he did not play in the playoffs that year. He had another solid season in 2006-07 with 3-11_14 in 41 games and then was traded to the Rangers (he spent 2007-08 in the minors with Hartford and won the Eddie Shore Award that season).
He signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, had an other great start in the minors with 1 goal and 12 assists in 20 games with Norfolk before the Stars acquired him Nov. 30 after Sergei Zubov had to leave the lineup to have hip surgery.
Hutchinson came in as a depth defenseman and basically did everything the Stars asked him to do last season. He played 38 games, averaged 14:20 a game, had two goals and three assists and was minus-4 on a team full of minuses. He was steady and quiet. Yet he also was a healthy scratch for 20 straight games, and when the Stars had injuries and the chance to really look at Hutchinson, they instead gave big minutes to Garrett Stafford and Ivan Vishnevskiy in short three-game tryouts.
So where does that leave Hutchinson?
Who knows, really. In addition to battling Stafford and Vishnevskiy, he now has to fight for ice time with Jeff Woywitka, a similar player who was signed as a free agent in the summer. The Stars have eight defensemen on guaranteed contracts, and it seems one might get washed out through waivers, a move to the minors or in a trade. Will that be Hutchinson? It might.
My guess is the new regime in Dallas will give him a pretty fair chance to show what he can do during the preseason, and it will be up to Hutchinson to prove he deserves to stick. That should make it pretty interesting in the next couple of months for the 29-year-old.