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Prospect Update: Mitch Hults
By Thomas Harrington
Last summer, the Anaheim Ducks signed Mitch Hults to an entry-level deal after two solid seasons of NCAA hockey. He just completed his first full season of professional hockey, after getting a taste of it at the end of the 2016-2017 season. Of San Diego’s rookie forwards, Hults had the second best offensive season of the group.
Hults played in both the AHL and ECHL last season, scoring 10 goals and 24 points in 53 games with the Gulls and two goals and seven points in five games with the Utah Grizzlies. Hults started the season out strong, scoring a goal and two points in his first game of the season. He finished October with three goals and five points, not a bad start to the season. He had an inconsistent November but did record a three point game with a goal and two assists midway through the month. When he was in the lineup, Hults primarily played center in San Diego’s bottom six. In January, Hults hit a bit of a wall and was scratched several times, leading to his eventual assignment to Utah. With the Grizzlies, Hults scored at least one point in all five games he played in and quickly showed that he belonged in the AHL. Upon returning to San Diego, Hults was pretty consistently in the lineup, filling the role of the team’s third or fourth line center. In April, with San Diego fighting for a playoff spot, Hults played in three of the team’s six games, as the Gulls struggled to find the right combination to get that final win and a postseason berth.
A year ago, I said that I didn’t have huge expectations for Hults, but given his speed, I was hoping for 10 goals and 30 points. Well, he hit the 10 goal mark but fell short of the 30 points. Given the offensive struggles of San Diego, especially late in the season, it’s not all that surprising. I also said that I wanted Hults to establish himself as a shutdown center and on the team’s penalty kill unit. Given his time in the ECHL and being scratched throughout the season, I wouldn’t say that Hults fully established himself in the lineup, but he was primarily used in a shutdown role and on the penalty kill. Overall, while he didn’t quite meet the expectations that I had set last summer, Hults had a relatively successful season, especially when you take into account the fact that he was the second best rookie forward in San Diego’s lineup.
This coming season, my first expectation for Hults is to not spend any time in the ECHL. The minimal time spent there last season helped his development, but now he needs to move beyond that. Second, for his offensive game to grow and for him to hit the 30 point mark this year, and finally, for him to appear in more games. It would be a great sign of his development if he plays in every game for San Diego this coming season.
It’s hard to predict when we’ll see Hults in the NHL. Given Anaheim’s depth at center, there’s not a lot of room for Hults. The Ryan Kesler situation could have a big impact on Hults’ future. Regardless if Kesler plays or not, I do not believe that Hults will be in the NHL this year. However, if Kesler misses all or most of the season and Anaheim chooses to fill that role from within, there could be a huge hole in San Diego’s top six. If that does happen, it will be a big opportunity for Hults or another young center prospect to step up and show what kind of player they can be in a more offensive role. If Hults is given a top-six role and excels with it, he could have a shot at some time in the NHL a year from now. If that doesn’t happen, I think it will be another couple of years before he makes his NHL debut.
Hults has one year left on his deal, and he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. Assuming he doesn’t regress this season, I believe that Anaheim will extend him, likely on a one or two-year two-way deal.
The next prospect update will be on Keaton Thompson.
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August 12th, 2018