Among all the moves made by the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer – moves which overhauled their offense and shored up their defense – the one which brought the most change to the club’s 2014-15 locker room was the deal that sent Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a 2016 second-round pick.
After three seasons in Pittsburgh, the most recent of which saw Sutter reach the 20-goal plateau for the second time in his career, the shutdown centerman was off to Vancouver to supposedly fill the void left by Ryan Kesler after he was traded before last season.
And yet, in a strange plot twist, Sutter’s role was flipped on its head once he arrived in Vancouver. When the Canucks lined up against the Calgary Flames for game one of their regular season on Oct. 7, it wasn’t the second-line center position that carried Sutter’s name. Rather, the 26-year-old took the ice alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin, suiting up as the third member of the team’s top offensive unit.
While never more than third-liner in Pittsburgh (mainly due to the presence of two other fairly talented centermen on the Penguins’ roster), Sutter was immediately billed as a key piece of the Canucks’ puzzle once the deal was in the books. Canucks General Manager Jim Benning said the following about his newest pivot once the deal had been closed:
“To me he’s a foundation piece for our group. He’s a playoff player. When the games mean something, that’s when he’s at his best. He’s got high-end intangibles. We have some young players that are going to make our team in the next few years. Along with the Bo Horvats and some of our other young players, Brandon will be the leader of that younger group.”
Many scoffed at the notion of Sutter becoming a key offensive weapon or a core leader, but the fact is he’s only known as a peripheral player due to the caliber of talent he’s played below throughout his career. Sutter is no Art Ross contender, but many have long suggested he could be more than what he was in Pittsburgh or Carolina.
The young centerman showed glimpses of that in his first game as a Canuck.
Playing as the third member of the Sedin twins’ line, Sutter posted a goal, an assist, three shots and a team-leading 56 percent in the faceoff circle, while leading all forwards in ice-time with 20:47. His tally wasn’t simply a tuck-in from an expert Sedin dish either. Rather, Sutter capitalized on a rebound from a low wrist shot that careened off of Karri Ramo’s pad, before batting the puck out of mid-air for the tally
The versatile centerman also suited up on the Canucks’ top powerplay, sharing the blue-line with Alex Edler. He put his versatility on display against the Flames, playing more than two minutes apiece on both the powerplay and penalty kill.
Most importantly, Sutter looked quite strong with the Sedins. The trio showed some promising chemistry, and Sutter’s confidence allowed him to draw enough defensive attention that it freed up his linemates for offensive opportunities, as was the case on the final goal of the contest.
While one game is certainly too absurd a sample size to base much off of, the Canucks’ decision-making in regards to Sutter has been quite interesting thus far. Assuming he can keep his place on the top line and first powerplay unit along with the Sedins, Sutter should have an excellent chance at topping 20 goals once again, and may even be in line for a career-best stat line.