Photo Credit: Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
The Canucks are hoping that for a second straight season, they’ve found a pivot that can defy the underlying metrics to become a building block for the franchise going forward. In trading Nick Bonino for Brandon Sutter, they think they’ve trumped the house for a second straight season.
What separates Sutter from his predecessor are a series of physical attributes that Canucks management felt were lacking from the Canucks lineup against bigger, faster teams last season. Standing at 6’3, Sutter provides the size they so desperately wanted – his longer stride will go a long way in addressing the issue of team speed, as well. Sutter is also a right-hand shot, an asset otherwise absent from their lineup.
The Canucks are hoping that a new role will bring out the best in Sutter. I think they’re in tough and you’ll get a good hint as to why, when we break him down on the other side of the jump.
After putting together two very solid – if unspectacular – seasons with Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, Sutter was selected 11th overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. In retrospect, his pedestrian counting stats would suggest it was a hefty reach by the Hurricanes. In all likelihood, scouts fell into the trap of weighting size and defensive acumen far too heavily – an assumption backed by the fact that Sutter never produced at a PPG pace at any point in his junior career.
It didn’t take long for Sutter to graduate to the pro ranks, with the Hurricanes dressing him in just his draft+2 season. There were growing pains early, but Sutter managed to acclimate by his second season, posting career highs in goals, assists and points – all of which stand to this day. Sutter was used primarily as the second line center and performed admirably offensively, although his possession metrics left much to be desired.
With the Hurricanes in dire need of an offensive facelift, they turned to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jordan Staal – the brother of their first line center, Eric Staal. Moving Jordan Staal meant the Pens would need a replacement in the three hole at center. This paved the way for Sutter as the centrepiece of the return package for Staal.
Upon joining the Penguins, Sutter’s role was diminished to that of the shutdown center. Generally speaking, the consensus was that Sutter would thrive in this role, as it honed in on his best traits as a forward.
Whether a byproduct of bad linemates, deployments or a generally poor fit, the Sutter experiment didn’t necessarily go as planned in Pittsburgh. The underlying metrics – production or possession alike – gradually regressed, to the point where Sutter was grossly underperforming for his most menial of roles. As the lynchpin in the anchor that was Pittsburgh’s bottom-six, Sutter was dispatched by the Penguins in exchange for Bonino, Adam Clendenning and a second round pick this last off-season.
What to Expect in 2015-16
While the Canucks have Sutter penciled into their second line, it might not be in the best interest of the team, or the player, to deploy him as such. Sutter isn’t necessarily a good two-way player, insofar as he can’t contribute offensively. He is, however, a very effective defensive forward.
Where the Canucks will find the most success with Sutter is playing him to his strengths. Provide him two play driving wingers and slant his zone starts defensively so that he might help the offence by proxy – lessening the defensive load placed on the shoulders of other, more prolific forwards. Sutter is more than capable of limiting shot quality; the problem being he does it at both ends of the rink.
Should the Canucks create a favourable environment for Sutter, it’s entirely likely that they can get their moneys worth.
- Represented Canada at 2008 World Junior Hockey Championships (Gold Medal)
- Represented Canada at 2008 Canada-Russia Super Junior Series (Victory, 5 points in 8 games)