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Lane Hutson has dealt with doubters his entire hockey career, because of his size. 

"It would make me way more upset than it should have early on," the 5-foot-8, 158-pound blueliner said. "But now I take it and remember what was said and use it. It's just motivation for me. It's something that fuels me."

Nobody shorter than 5-foot-9 played defence in the National Hockey League this season, but Hutson is unfazed. The 18-year-old from Holland, Michigan led the USA Hockey National Team Development Program with 53 assists this year and capped the campaign by being named the top defenceman at the under-18 World Championship. 

Hutson was honoured once again this week when he was invited to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final to receive the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence.

"It definitely motivated me," Hutson said of his trip to Tampa. "Seeing how special it was being there, I felt like I wanted to be on the ice. I want to be a big part of a team and help a team win."

The McGuire Award is handed out annually by the NHL to the draft-eligible prospect who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism. Travis KonecnyNico Hischier and William Eklund are among the previous winners. 

Hutson is one of the biggest climbers on the final prospects list compiled by TSN director of scouting Craig Button. He moved up eight spots to No. 31.  

Hutson spoke to TSN this week about his progress and explained why his size can actually be an advantage. He also shared what it was like to rub shoulders with Charles Barkley, Auston Matthews and others during his Stanley Cup sojourn. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

TSN: What was it like to be at the Stanley Cup final? 

Hutson: "It was surreal. Seeing [commissioner] Gary Bettman and shaking his hand, it was something I never thought I'd be doing this early or ever. It was really cool. Then I got to see Charles Barkley, which is something I didn't expect."

TSN: What did you talk to Barkley about? 

Hutson: "He was really into the game. He was talking about the game. He was saying he really wants Tampa to win, but doesn't think anyone can stop Colorado. He was saying, 'I'm good friends with Jon Cooper.'  I was like, 'You can't argue with two championships in a row so we'll see how this goes.' It was pretty cool talking to him." 

TSN: They showed you on the video board when they presented the award in the second period. What was that moment like? 

Hutson: "Pretty cool. Everyone was applauding. I mean, that's what you dream of except you want to be on the ice getting the applause. But it was still pretty cool." 

TSN: You also attended the NHL Awards show the next day where you met a fellow US National Team Development Program product in Matthews. What was that like?  

Hutson: "The way he carried himself, he's the nicest guy ... He was talking about the national team a little bit. My family is pretty close with Clayton Keller's so me and my dad were talking about Clayton Keller with him a little bit. He was obviously pretty busy because everyone wanted to talk to him, but it was pretty cool."  

TSN: What were the nerves like talking to guys like Bettman and Matthews? 

Hutson: "Honestly, you just take a few deep breaths. Once you meet one the rest are fine. I met Gary Bettman first so I was really nervous for that and then for everyone else I was more calm."  

TSN: Who else did you talk to during the trip? 

Hutson: "Roman Josi, Trevor Zegras and the whole Snow family. I sat next to them and it was really cool." 

TSN: What stood out? 

Hutson: "[Calgary Flames assistant GM Chris] Snow was just talking about how he watched me play all year and he was letting me know that he knew everything about my team and he was asking questions. It was pretty special." 

TSN: Any other interactions that resonated? 

Hutson: "I was just hanging out with my dad and Moritz Seider was about to walk out. He goes out of his way to say, 'Congrats.' He didn't have to do that. It was cool for him to do that, because he's a high-calibre player in the League." 

TSN: What did you notice watching a Stanley Cup final game live? 

Hutson: "The momentum shifts in the game. The big players are the big players in the game, but you also look at the depth on each team. I was watching [Anthony] Cirelli and [Pat] Maroon and the way they play, they can take it to teams. All four lines are playing and it's very competitive in each end." 

TSN: You showed off your competitiveness at the under-18 World Championship. What did you like about your performance there? 

Hutson: "I had a simplicity to my game. I felt like I played a mature game and wasn't trying to over extend myself. I was making the simple plays. We had gifted scorers on our team and everything was going in so it was pretty easy on me. Defensively, I was sticking to what worked all year, which is having a good stick and using my skating and getting leverage on guys and being quick transitionally." 

TSN: Where did you improve the most from the start of the season? 

Hutson: "Early in the year I was still trying to figure out how to create without pulling myself out of a defensive position. I felt like I got a lot better at it. Early in the year, I felt like I was trying to force a little too much and towards the end of the year I kind of, not figured it out, but I sort of did. It's gotten a lot better." 

TSN: How do you excel despite being a smaller guy?

Hutson: "The way I use my stick, my skating and my sense. I have an ability to move pucks quicker than a bigger guy and get to pucks quicker. I feel I can defend at the same level as a guy who's 6-foot-6 just because of the leverage thing and how I use my stick and skating. I still need to get bigger and stronger."  

TSN: You brought a report from an endocrinologist to the Scouting Combine to show teams. What did it say? 

Hutson: "It's about my bone age. It's delayed a year. My bone age is 17 and my biological age is 18. So, I have room to grow … This isn't the size I'm going to be in a year." 

TSN: How much more can you grow? 

Hutson: "Based on what the sheet says, I think I have two more years to grow and I think I can get two to three inches out of it." 

TSN: Why do you wear No. 23? 

Hutson: It was a number I was given when I played for the North Jersey Avalanche and I like how it looks. Now, I like it because of Adam Fox. And Michael Jordan (smile). I didn't even think about that until someone brought it up to me. They're like, 'Wait, are you 23 for Jordan?' I'm like, 'Well, now that you say that, that's pretty cool.' But that's just a number I was given and I've stuck with it." 

TSN: What do you like about Fox? 

Hutson: "The way he sees the ice, how deceptive he is and his ability to see the next play before anyone else. He has a simplicity to his game in the offensive zone that's really special and defensively he's no slouch. He's really good in the D-zone and has a great stick."

TSN: Who else do you like watching?  

Hutson: "Cale Makar. He's silky smooth and can create and get out of tight spaces. He can escape. He can move pucks quickly. He's a little more physical than me so he can lay guys out too. So, it's pretty fun to watch him. And then Torey Krug. He's a guy who's competitive in all three zones. He's super fun to watch because he moves his feet and uses his skating and stick to his advantage and breaks up plays with ease."