NHL draft prospect Cole Hutson hoping to exceed brother Lane’s benchmarks

Barrington native and 2024 NHL draft prospect Cole Hutson looks at the Blackhawks and tells it like it is.

“They’re a rebuilding team, they won’t be good these next few years, but they’ve got some good prospects in the lineup,” Hutson said. “And I think they could use a guy like me.”

Hutson headlines a group of eight Chicago-area natives listed in the Central Scouting Service’s final draft rankings this year.

He is officially the 55th-ranked North American skater, but he will likely be selected higher than that. He projects as an early second-round pick.

Considering how dramatically his older brother, Lane, has outperformed expectations since falling to the Canadiens at 62nd overall in the 2022 draft, every franchise — including the Hawks — will be watching Cole’s availability closely during this year’s festivities June 28-29 in Las Vegas.

Sibling rivalry

Lane Hutson’s development timeline — and the league-wide scouting folly that allowed him to fall so far two years ago — dominates the discussion surrounding Cole this year.

Teams do not want to make the same mistake twice, and besides that, teams would very much love to have the next Lane Hutson in their system. He was a Hobey Baker Trophy finalist each of the last two years at Boston University, emerging as one of the world’s top defensive prospects before making his NHL debut April 15.

It turns out Lane’s development timeline also dominates the discussion between the Hutson boys themselves, just in a slightly different way.

“He’s done so well every time he’s played at the next level,” Cole said. “He’s always setting the standard for me, and I’m always trying to do better than him. It’s a good and bad thing, because if I don’t pass his standard, I won’t be happy with myself. But if I do, I get some bragging rights.”

Indeed, since Lane recorded 90 points in 109 career games for the U.S. National Team Development Program, Cole went out and recorded 113 points in 109 games, breaking the record for a defenseman.

Next season, Cole will follow Lane’s footsteps to BU, hoping to exceed his marks there. In the meantime, they’ll train together this summer at Barrington Ice Arena, which their father owns.

They’re not exactly identical players, though. Lane was undervalued as a draft prospect largely because he was so small (5-8, 158 pounds). Cole isn’t big, but he’s already slightly bigger (5-10, 165 pounds) and brings more of an edge.

“He’s a super high-paced player,” Cole said. “He’s got the fast-twitch muscle. He’s really good in the offensive end. … I’m a bit bigger than him, I’m a bit smoother skating than him and I bring a more physical game than him.

“This year, I’ve been getting more and more physical. There’s no better feeling than throwing a big hit and getting your team up on the bench.”

Neither brother has lacked confidence in their personal sales pitches, and Cole also mentioned how he can “create plays from little to nothing.”

He’ll probably tell the Hawks and 31 other teams something similar at the scouting combine in Buffalo this coming week, then wait to see which one decides to pull the trigger on him on draft night.

A rare goalie

It has been a while since the Chicago area produced a goalie prospect as promising as Nicholas Kempf, a Morton Grove native ranked No. 4 among North American goalies by the CSS. He projects to be a middle-round pick.

“During the season, you try not to think about [the draft], but now, it’s the only thing I can really think of,” Kempf said.

He dealt with hip flexor and groin strains early this past season with the NTDP, which caused him to get off to a self-diagnosed “slow start,” but he built confidence as the year went on. At the under-18 world championships in early May, he posted a .919 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average over six games.

The fact he’s 6-2 and athletic is an appealing combination, and he believes he has improved his abilities to read plays and maneuver around the crease.

He plans to work on his skating and hands this summer before heading to Notre Dame in the fall. In the meantime, he feels like the many hours he has spent talking with NHL teams has helped him understand himself better, too.

“They know my game really well, so [I’m] not trying to make up stuff; [I] just be who I am,” he said. “The first couple [teams], you don’t really know what to expect, so you go into there with an open mind. As I’ve talked to more teams, it’s gone a lot smoother and I know what to expect. I know my game a lot more after really thinking about it.”

The full group

Growing up in Elmhurst, forward Kamil Bednarik “never really thought” he would get to this point.

Now that he has — he’s a projected second- or third-round pick, ranked 28th among North American skaters by the CSS and interviewing with his hometown Hawks and most other NHL franchises — it feels surreal. But that doesn’t mean he lacks confidence, because he very much does not.

“I’m a very versatile and reliable center,” Bednarik said. “I’m the type of player that can play in all situations of the game, doesn’t matter what it is.

“I move the puck very well. I’m more of a pass-first guy than a shooter. I like setting up my teammates. And back to being versatile, I think I can play with anybody, up and down the lineup, and I make the players on my line better. I just have a very balanced style of play.”

Bednarik, like Hutson, is headed to BU in the fall. Before that, he plans to focus on improving his speed and explosiveness during his summer training.

Beyond Hutson, Kempf and Bednarik, James Reeder is the next-highest ranked player (at 92nd) in this year’s Chicago-area prospect group. He’s a forward from Glenview committed to Denver University.

The other four Chicago-area prospects are near the end of the rankings and may or may not actually get drafted. Noah Lapointe, a defenseman from Burr Ridge committed to Arizona State, is ranked 198th. Drew Waterfield, a forward from Aurora committed to Yale, is ranked 207th.

Charles Pardue, a forward from Winnetka committed to Notre Dame, is ranked 209th. And Zack Sharp, a defenseman from Naperville committed to Western Michigan, is ranked 221st in his second year eligible.

This comes after three Chicago-area natives were selected in the 2023 draft: defenseman Andrew Strathmann from Beach Park (by the Blue Jackets in the fourth round), forward Joey Willis from Elmhurst (by the Predators in the fourth round) and defenseman Paul Fischer from River Forest (by the Blues in the fifth round).

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