If the Canucks draft a defenceman, does that make an American move to Russia? Yes, is the answer. The Canucks, the butterfly in this story, drafted Ben Hutton and the effects rippled out in all directions. One of those ripples sent a man to Russia. Some of the ripples flowed in and out of Toronto, like a tide washing up defencemen and dragging others away.
NHL defencemen are all interconnected. There's 180 NHL jobs for defenders, not counting the occasional extra men on those teams that like playing seven per game. There's enough coaches who care a lot about handedness—and they all should—that there's really only 90 ideal jobs for any one man. Call it an even 100 to be generous, and you realize you're almost in goalie territory for how thin the layer of cream is at the top.
The butterfly flapping it's wings is the Canucks drafting Hutton in 2012, but the story of the interconnectedness of all defencemen begins before that, the ripples go backwards as well as forwards.
We go back in time to 2010, to watch the Nashville Predators draft Taylor Aronson, a right-shooting American defenceman who had played in the WHL as a junior.
He had showed a lot of promise in junior hockey, and the Predators played him in the AHL the next year for a few games and then did a fairly unusual thing—they sent him to the ECHL for most of the season, where he was very good. He spent part of the next two years in the E as well, developing, scoring goals, getting to understand pro hockey in a way a lot of prospects never do.
The Nashville Predators had a lot of defencemen. They have a couple of very famous ones who are likely to play for years in their top four slots. They also had Seth Jones by the time Aronson was still in the E.
In 2014, Aronson moved up to the AHL permanently and put up points at the same rate he had in the E. That is quite a feat. The AHL is a whole other world from the E, and usually a jump up in league involves a drop in points production. Aronson had grabbed the attention of the team that had drafted him with his improvement. Or so he thought.
In 2015, deep into his best season of hockey with the high-flying Milwaukee Admirals, where he would eventually score 40 points in 64 games, more than he'd ever managed even in junior hockey in 70+ games, the Nashville Predators acquired another defenceman.
A few days later, just after the New Year had dawned, they traded Seth Jones. The right side of the Nashville defence suddenly had a hole in it, guys could move up, but that other acquisition was also a right-shooter.
Time to leave Aronson for a while and go back in time again, to Vancouver this time. Not to see Ben Hutton get drafted yet, but someone else.
Frank Corrado was taken by Vancouver in 2011, and he's yet another right-shooting defenceman only a little younger than Aronson.
While Aronson was developing in the E, Corrado went back for another year in the OHL where he duplicated his pre-draft production. He joined the Canucks in 2012, and split time between the NHL team and the AHL. The next year, he played even fewer NHL games, while the Canucks couldn't seem to find a place for him.
And now we stop for a moment and hop back to watch the butterfly flap its wings. It's the summer after Corrado's last junior year, the summer after Aronson had just played his first 40 games in the E, and Vancouver is drafting another defender.
Ben Hutton, is the only lefty in our story, and yet his existence has caused so much havoc for everyone else on the other side of the blueline. He was taken by Vancouver at nearly the same spot they'd gotten Corrado the year before.
Hutton spent three years post draft at the University of Maine while Corrado and Aronson were getting on with playing pro hockey. In the spring of 2015, he played a few games in the AHL, and then arrived in camp in 2015 looking to take an NHL job. Corrado wasn't really in his way, over on the right side, but Vancouver only had so many roster spots.
And now we need to pop back in time again and pick up another thread of the story. We go back almost to where we began, a few minutes after Aronson was drafted, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are picking a right-shooting Swedish defender, Petter Granberg.
The draft didn't change Granberg's life much. He went right back to playing for Skellefteå like he'd been doing his whole life. He played some SHL games—the men's league, he played more the next year, and he was working his way up in the normal way. In 2013, the Leafs brought him to Toronto and he played a full unimpressive season in the AHL. In 2014, he played a better season for the Marlies, got in seven NHL games, but wasn't wowing anyone.
In the off season he had surgery and started the year on IR. Players on IR are on the NHL roster, where Granberg stayed until he was better.
While Granberg was hurt, the Canucks were confused and overburdened with players who weren't waiver exempt that they needed to cut to meet the roster size restrictions at the start of the season.
They wanted Hutton on the team.
They decided Corrado was surplus to their immediate needs, and they couldn't find enough roster spots to keep him in the press box. Rather than do something clever with IR they rolled the dice and put him on waivers so they could assign him to the AHL.
You know what happened next. Because the Canucks had Ben Hutton and wanted him in the NHL, Corrado went to Toronto where he became intimately familiar with the press box there.
The butterfly flapped its wings back in 2012, but three years later, only Corrado seemed to have felt any effects. Corrado sat, Aronson played in the AHL, Hutton in the NHL, and Granberg waited for his surgery to heal.
Eventually Granberg did heal, and Toronto, already oversupplied with right-handed defencemen in the press box, tried the same gamble Vancouver had made. And they lost too.
Maybe the Leafs were less upset than the Canucks, maybe they didn't think Granberg was part of the future, maybe no one is so very sad to see Granberg go other than Viktor Loov.
Granberg, of course, is the acquisition Nashville made in December, just before they traded Seth Jones. Granberg, of course, was not waiver exempt. And the pipeline to the NHL ahead of Aronson didn't get any clearer with the trade of Seth Jones like it might have if Granberg had never arrived.
Aronson had done his time. More than done it; no one else in our story ever set foot in the E. He was one of the top players on the Admirals; they were in first place; he was the backbone of the team; and then they went to Charlotte on a road trip.
We'll come back to Charlotte in a minute, but first there's a little crosscurrent that caused a small ripple. Not quite a butterfly, more of a small moth fluttering away.
Before the 2015-2016 season started, Colorado traded a spare right-shooting defenceman they couldn't figure out for Arizona's spare lefty. Just an ordinary swap of two defenders in their early twenties, players little different from the rest of the men in this story except they'd been taken higher in the draft, and were perhaps bigger disappointments to their teams.
Stefan Elliott never caught on in Arizona any better than he did in Colorado, and he found himself bundled into the most famous trade of the season as he went to Nashville as part of the John Scott trade.
The player that was moved out of the Nashville organization wasn't so young, but he was a defender. Victor Bartley went to Montréal, but Bartley is a lefty, so all the deal did for Aronson was clog the pipeline up more, not less.
Nashville had sent Granberg down to Milwaukee for a conditioning assignment—exactly the same, within the rules technique the Leafs used on Corrado—and he was called back up to the NHL when it was up. And then as the playoffs approached, Elliott was called up by the Predators too.
Aronson, in Charlotte, saw nothing but roadblocks and the futility of being a good soldier, putting in his time in the AHL and waiting patiently for his chance. Aronson, it would seem, decided there was no hope in waiting, no reward for patience, and he never came back from Charlotte.
He skipped the rest of the season, he missed the playoffs where the Admirals were swept in the first round, and he was suspended by his team. There was no storybook reconciliation like Jo Drouin is acting out for us all.
Aronson signed with Lada Togliatti a few days ago. Togliatti is not as Italian as it sounds, it's the working-class city in Russia where the Lada cars are made.
The Canucks drafted Ben Hutton and Taylor Aronson ended up in the KHL.
Frank Corrado played just less than half a season for the Leafs and never caught fire, managing only 6 points. Stefan Elliott was half the man Aronson was, putting up 19 points to Aronson's 40 on the Admirals, in more than half as many games. Petter Granberg played 27 games in the NHL and had two points. Ben Hutton played 75 games in the NHL and had 25 points.
Taylor Aronson, who turns 25 this winter and who put up points in the AHL to match what Roman Josi did when he was 20, never got the proverbial cup of coffee in the NHL. They let him smell it once, calling him up, but he never got in a game.
The effect of the butterfly flapping its wings isn't finished with Aronson. The Leafs bought in to defensive handedness in a big way and brought in Connor Carrick and Nikita Zaitsev. Aronson could tell Corrado how that feels.
Corrado may be on the move again. Nashville may decide that Granberg isn't useful if they have Elliott. And what of the mass of left-shooting defencemen in the Leafs' organization that have been shut out of half of the jobs they used to think were open?
NHL defencemen are all interconnected, and the cream that has risen to the top isn't always perfectly selected. It isn't enough to be good enough, you have to have a path open in front of you. The butterfly has to be on your side.