The beauty of the draft is every year it offers renewed hope. Whether it’s for franchises seeking a savior or players looking to take that next step in their careers, it’s a time of positivity. But it can also be time to reflect on the perseverance needed just to put that NHL sweater on for the first time. Florida third-rounder Logan Hutsko knows that better than anyone in the 2018 class.
As a teenager, he played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school, the alma mater of Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews. After that, Hutsko earned entry into USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, where he was hot-housed with the some of the best under-17s and under-18s in the nation. But the path to the NHL is never easy, and for Hutsko, his two years with the NTDP ended up being the most foreboding of his life.
Midway through his first season, Hutsko was practising faceoffs with a teammate during warmups. He got bodied on the draw and, in a fluke accident, his neck went into his fellow center’s chest. Hutsko’s neck was broken. Specifically, one of the rings around his spinal cord was fractured, and the recovery time was five months. But after a month, Hutsko got some frightening news. “There was no progress, and the doctor sat me down for a talk,” Hutsko said. “He said I might not play again. I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was a long, long process of hoping it would heal.”
Luckily, Hutsko’s body finally reacted. Four months later, he was healed. Technically speaking, of course. Hockey is a rough game, and even though Hutsko is known for his offensive skill, he still had to be physically prepared to absorb contact once he got back on the ice. Not only that, but there was the mental hurdle to clear of whether the next hit would break him again.
Hutsko had a good summer and entered his NHL draft year of 2016-17 with a lot of hope. Then came an early-season matchup between his NTDP under-18s and the Boston University Terriers. Hutsko took an awkward hit and cracked his kneecap. Incredibly, the incident cost him more time than the neck fracture. There was a misdiagnosis, an injury during rehab and then surgery, which required its own recovery period. While NTDP mates such as Josh Norris and Grant Mismash were showing off their games for NHL scouts, Hutsko was sidelined with a nine-game stat line and his second major injury in two years. “It was definitely hard watching my teammates go through the (2017) draft process,” Hutsko said. “I just had to sit back and be patient.”
Hutsko considered a year of junior in the USHL to get his scoring touch back this past season but ultimately went to Boston College. “I wanted to help anyway I could, even if it was on the fourth line,” he said. “I came in with the intention of playing any role.”
Having lost their top five scorers from the year before (including NHL picks Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald), the Eagles had an opportunity for Hutsko. The freshman began the season as the fourth-line left winger before moving up to third-line right winger. Around Christmas, he moved to second-line center and then finally, first-line right winger with Julius Mattila and Carolina pick David Cotton. All told, Hutsko racked up 31 points in 37 games to lead the Eagles. Not bad for a 19-year-old freshman.
Hutsko was not invited to the NHL draft combine this summer, so Boston College helped him hold his own workout on campus, which let him keep up with his school work. On the same day as the combine, he did similar agility and strength exercises for 12 NHL teams, including Toronto, Boston, Pittsburgh and Florida. The Panthers met with Hutsko. “I was so impressed with him,” said GM Dale Tallon. “Billy Ryan, one of our scouts, wanted this kid in the worst way, and after interviewing him, I felt the same way.”
Florida had to acquire a third-rounder from Nashville (giving the Preds their third-rounder in 2019) to snatch Hutsko. “The dedication this kid has, the desire, the passion to get through all that?” Tallon said. “That shows impeccable character.”
Combined with his skill, Hutsko has a believer in Tallon and the Panthers. It was a hard road, but it’s already paying off.
This story appears in the August 20, 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.