Nashville Predators goaltender Carter Hutton took the circuitous route to the NHL, but is at age 27 making the very most of the opportunity now it's finally arrived.
Hutton didn't turn pro until he was 24 and has already in his brief career spent time in the Philadelphia, San Jose, Chicago and -- after signing a free-agent deal last summer -- Nashville organizations.
That last move is when things got really interesting for Hutton, as he was bumped last month from an expected backup role into the No. 1 role after two-time Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne came down with a hip infection.
Since Rinne went down, Hutton -- a Thunder Bay native -- had gone 4-1-1 in net for the Predators and is a big part of the somewhat unexpected early season success Nashville has enjoyed this year in getting out to an 8-5-2 record heading into their game at MTS Centre against the Jets Friday night.
While Carter had a short night on Friday -- he got the hook after giving up three goals in the first eight minutes -- it was hard to pin Winnipeg's first-period onslaught on him.
And besides, it's all gravy anyway for Hutton -- a guy who was toiling for the Toledo Walleye of the East Coast Hockey League in 2011-12, wondering after a demotion to the low minors if he'd ever again see the American Hockey League again, much less the NHL.
"It was a big step back. And for me it was hard, it wasn't something that was easy to deal with. But at the same time, I kept working and got some opportunities and took advantage of them," said Hutton, adding the experience in Toledo gave him valuable perspective that's been useful to him this season.
"I just try to keep it in the moment and try not to think too far ahead. I went right to the NHL out of college -- and then you're in the East Coast (League). So you just have to take things day by day and just take care of what I can."
Hutton laughs when he describes how he gets approached by people wanting to know his secret for breaking into the NHL.
"People ask me sometimes, 'how do you get there?' " he said. "You never know how you're going to get there. You just have to kind of deal with it as things come and develop different phases of your life.
"It's not always a rush."
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Injured Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba made a brief appearance near the end of practice Friday morning, prompting questions to head coach Claude Noel about whether the youngster is close to playing for the first time since injuring his neck Oct. 18.
"I can't give a timeline," said Noel. "He's a little ways away from practicing with us -- so whether that's four or five days...? And then he'd have to be with us in practice for a couple of good practices to make sure everything's OK. We have to be intelligent how we handle that situation."
Trouba has now missed 10 games since he fell awkwardly into the end boards during a 4-3 Jets win over St. Louis at MTS Centre last month.
Trouba teammate -- and roommate -- Zach Bogosian said he was pleased to see Trouba finally back on the ice.
"I see him everyday at home," Bogosian grinned, "so it's nice to see him at the rink once in awhile."
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Jets centre Bryan Little, who scored his team leading ninth and 10th goals of the season Friday, is the NHL's sharpest sharpshooter right now.
Little had eight goals on just 33 shots coming into Friday night -- and then promptly scored on his first shot of the night on a spinorama move from the slot early in the first period.
Little's 33 shots coming in was the lowest number for any player with eight or more goals this season and his 24.2 per cent shooting percentage was second in the Central Division, behind only St. Louis forward Alexander Steen's 30.2 per cent.