When Canucks General Manager Jim Benning acquired Brandon Sutter, people struggled with what Vancouver’s newest acquisition would bring to the table.
People scrutinized the move from the onset and even the most optimistic among us had questions about the 6’3″ 190-pound forward. To make matters worse, Sutter never had the opportunity to answer these questions, missing much of last season to injury. Sutter became something of a forgotten man.
Sutter’s nine points in 20 games were modest, but there was enough there to wonder if he could bring that production to another level. Well… with five of the season’s 82 games over and done with, we’re starting to get a sense of just that.
Nothing about Sutter’s counting stats jumps off the page. By that same token, it’s unfair to judge Sutter’s ability to produce offensively when so much of his game emphasizes good play at both ends of the ice. For Sutter, who’s spent much of his career stapled on the Pittsburgh Penguins third line behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, he never had the opportunity to show his stuff offensively.
When Canucks Head Coach Willie Desjardins put the Markus Granlund, Jannik Hansen and Brandon Sutter line, it didn’t engender excitement among Canucks fans. Certainly nobody expected they would be the Canucks’ best and most consistent line.
Brandon Sutter: “We have a bit of everything on our line. Jannik on the right, he’s so fast and that opens up so much for us, and he’s such a good forechecker. The biggest thing is that all three of us have the same mentality, defensively. We’re all pretty smart away from the puck and that works well. Granny has finally come into his own here and is playing well. I think it’s a bit of an adjustment for him going to the wing, but he’s done well with it. We’ve been playing pretty well together so I can’t say anything bad about these guys. It’s been awesome.”
Jannik Hansen on Sutter: “He gives us that extra centreman we needed for a long time last year. He fits every thing you want in a player. He seems hungry. He did not play a whole lot of hockey last year. He wants to prove what type of player he is. He didn’t really get a chance to do that last year. So far, he’s done a tremendous job for us, whether it’s in the face-off circle, penalty killing, or chipping in important goals.”
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 17, 2016
Both Granlund and Hansen have one goal and one assist so far, and Sutter leads the team in points with four (one goal, three assists) in four games. You can have your pick from the litter when deciding who the MVP has been so far, but Sutter has been a very important factor in the Canucks’ undefeated record.
Joey Kenward: “If healthy, I think he’s got a golden opportunity to put up career numbers. He’s established himself as a good, two-way forward that, when given the opportunity, he can score. He’s proven that, in clutch situations, he can be a go-to guy offensively.”
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 21, 2016
Pierre LeBrun: “The player that I love right now is Brandon Sutter. The injury that devastated the Canucks last year, he only played 20 games. I don’t care how deep your organization it, you’re not replacing a player like Brandon Sutter when he’s playing like he can. He’s a terrific No. 2 centre and he makes a difference. I think he has the tools to be a 20-goal scorer. The way that line plays, they play a north-south game and I love that. It’s a great juxtaposition to the magic that the Sedins will eventually create with Eriksson.”
Ray Ferraro: “When the trade was made, right away there were 2 sides of the Sutter camp: You either really liked him, or you don’t because he doesn’t produce a lot of offense. I think he’s a smart player, that’s pretty evident. He’s really good on the draws, he’s an excellent penalty-killer. He shoots the puck pretty well. A lot of players don’t have great food speed, and they can more than get by because of their smarts and ability to know where to be on the ice. Brandon is that type of player.”
Dave Tomlinson: “He’s been very close to (being the Canucks’ best player). He’s been the most consistent and that’s great. You start to see the worth of a real solid, two-way, second-line centreman if that’s where you want to slot him. And right-handed shot centreman. Since Kesler’s departure, the Canucks haven’t really had that sort of player. Obviously Sutter and Kesler are different types of players, but defensively – they’re both strong, penalty killing – they’re both strong, and they can both chip in on the power play. What they have in Sutter is more of a rangy guy whose exuberance is spilling over now.”
Winner winner chicken dinner!
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 16, 2016
It’s safe to say in these early proceedings that the Canucks have improved defensively this season. Newly appointed ‘neutral zone coach’ Doug Jarvis likely plays a role. I wouldn’t rule out Manny Malhotra’s contributions, either. For those more analytics savvy among us, it’s encouraging to see the Canucks at nearly 50% Corsi For. It’s a stark improvement on last year’s 47.2%. Defensively, the Canucks have been among the league’s best.
This added emphasis on defence suits Sutter’s game to a tee. It seems that way five games in. Sutter is averaging 18:38 in ice-time per game. He’s won 50.7% of his faceoffs and started 56.7% of his shifts in the defensive zone.
That much was expected of Sutter, though. His offensive contributions, clearly underrated to this point, are what’s turning heads. By no means is Sutter a point-per-game player, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Sutter smashing his previous career high of 40 points and 21 goals.
Small sample size warnings abound, but Sutter’s impressed. Sutter’s been good in the face-off circle, good on the penalty kill and has flashed the ability to not only lead a rush but finish one. Sutter’s been an impact player. He’s rewarding Benning’s faith in Sutter, harkening back to his comments of the two-way pivot as a ‘foundational player’.
Comeback complete. pic.twitter.com/9CksdhGjfX
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) October 17, 2016