JANESVILLE, WI — Former Jets defenseman and recent Miami RedHawk Grant Hutton became the first ever Jets alumnus to sign an NHL contract Tuesday morning, inking a one-year, entry-level deal with the New York Islanders, beginning in 2019-20.
Hutton will report to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, to finish the 2018-19 season.
Hutton (6-3/205) played for the Jets in the historic 2014-15 season which saw the club break regular season league records for most wins (49), most points (100), and fewest goals allowed (114).
“Grant’s earned it,” said Jets president Bill McCoshen. “He was a key piece of our most successful team ever and had a great career at Miami. Now he’s one step closer to his dream of playing in the NHL.”
“The best team I’ve ever played on.”
Janesville drafted Hutton 15th overall in the 2014 NAHL Draft. He began the 2014-15 season with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers, and joined the Jets in November. He instantly became a key contributor on a deep blue line in Janesville. Head coach Joe Dibble and assistant coach Erik Largen put their trust in Hutton, assigning him heavy minutes against top opposition and giving him a chance to shine on both special teams units. Seven of Hutton’s 14 regular season points came on the man advantage.
“Grant was a huge part of the success that we as a team enjoyed that year,” Dibble said. “Pretty much instantly from the minute he walked into Janesville, we knew we had a leader on and off the ice. His character, his work ethic, the way he carried himself at the rink…everything about Grant was professional-grade. He brought a lot of skill to us, for sure, but most important to the team was the way he cared about his teammates. He helped them realize what it takes to become an elite athlete and to play at the highest level you possibly can. Without his professionalism and his dedication to his craft, we might not have had the season we had that year.”
The Indiana native proved his big-game mettle when it mattered most. He posted seven points and a +10 mark in nine playoff games, both metrics top among Jets defensemen that postseason. Though the Jets fell to the Minnesota Wilderness in the Robertson Cup Semifinals, it was Hutton who kept his team alive with a late-third-period, game-tying goal in the deciding game.
“There’s a lot about that season that was special, but some of the little things you remember are just about those emotional moments for the team,” Dibble said. “Grant provided a lot of those, whether it was a big playoff goal and counted on the scoresheet, or if it was getting down and blocking a big shot to get the guys going. You look at what he then did at Miami, captaining some of those teams, and it’s no wonder. The kid’s a leader and it’s kind of fitting in that sense that he’s the Jets’ first NHL contract. Certainly more to come.”
Hutton’s junior hockey career took him through five teams, including three in the USHL, but he really found his ground in Janesville.
“One of the first things that comes to mind about being in Janesville was just how fast and how easy it was getting acclimated to the coaching staff,” Hutton said. “That year I had been on two different teams already. I’d been traded before and I was pretty familiar to the unfamiliar, but there was something about Janesville where it was so easy to come in and get comfortable. That contributed vastly to my success as an individual, but it’s probably a lot to do with our team success, too. It says a lot about the people in the organization to create that culture that’s so welcoming and inviting to new guys and to the returners.”
Hutton won a NAPHL 16U Championship in 2012 playing for the Indiana Jr. Ice, a team that allowed just five goals in five games on their title run. The 49-win Jets team, though, was “without a doubt” the best he’s ever played on, he said.
“No question at all,” Hutton said. “It’s also up there in the rankings for the most fun, just in terms of the experience we all had and the aura around the team going into every game. Home or away, front or back end of a series, it didn’t matter what the circumstances were, we just knew we were gonna win every game we played.”
“Our goal was to help kids get college scholarships. Now it’s become more than that.”
In January 2015, Hutton announced his Division I commitment to Miami, where he spent four seasons developing with fellow Jets alumnus Zach LaValle. Hutton was named an alternate captain his sophomore and junior seasons, and captained the RedHawks this year as a senior. Hutton’s NCAA career finished with 71 points (29-42) in 144 games. His 29 goals rank 3rd all-time among RedHawk defensemen.
Hutton, for as successful a hockey career as he’s put together, said he’d never been a “first” for anything before.
“It feels unbelievable to be the first here from the Jets,” Hutton said. “Honestly it’s hard to believe, with all the talent that’s gone through the system. Obviously there’s going to be plenty more after me, and that’s a true testament to the work the coaches and the players are putting into the organization. I mean, the support the community gives that team and the players is something I haven’t seen anywhere else other than Oxford [Ohio], to be honest.”
The Jets have seen several alumni play professional hockey in the past few seasons. Ross Mauermann (Jets 2009-11), Ruslan Pedan (12-13), Robin Hoglund (13-14), and Aleksi Ainali (14-15) have all seen pro action in Europe. David Jacobson (10-11) and Conor Lemirand (11-13) have skated ECHL games, a league one rung below the AHL. Garrett Cecere (11-13) is wrapping up his first ECHL season with the Maine Mariners, and his former teammate, Alex Brooks (09-11), has logged more than 170 games of ECHL action. Jake Horton (10-12), a key player for the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, will run into Hutton on April 12th when the Thunderbirds battle the Sound Tigers.
All this pro experience aside, Hutton’s NHL contract is a new milestone for the Jets organization.
“Jake Horton had an opportunity to sign an NHL deal, but chose to continue his development in the AHL,” McCoshen said. “He’ll get there. I always believed Grant Hutton would be our first Jet to play an NHL game, and still believe that to be the case.”
The Jets saw goaltender Jack LaFontaine selected 75th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2016 NHL Draft, and forward Jakov Novak picked 188th last June by the Ottawa Senators.
“We still have two NHL draft picks, too, and a high likelihood this June for a third,” said McCoshen, referencing goaltender Cole Brady’s potential. “It’s become an expectation that we get the best of the best. When my partners and I started the Jets, our goal was to help kids get college scholarships. Now it’s become more than that. Putting a kid in the NHL ten years ago was a stretch goal, and now it’s an expectation going forward.”