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Staal felt he traded one 'brother' for another

Thursday, 02.28.2013 / 4:13 PM
Kurt Dusterberg  - NHL.com Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- When Jordan Staal and Brandon Sutter were traded for one another in June, it was Staal who drew most of the attention.

After all, the Pittsburgh Penguins center was about to join his brother, Eric, with the Carolina Hurricanes, setting up a solid one-two punch down the middle of the lineup. The trade also occurred on Jordan's wedding day, adding a bit of the surreal to an exciting story line.

Sutter's move to Pittsburgh, on the other hand, didn't cause quite so many ripples. It became a secondary story played out quietly. But while Eric was thrilled to welcome his brother to Carolina, he was disappointed it came at the expense of his "other" brother.

"We've developed a close relationship over the years," Eric said of Sutter. "He felt like a brother who wasn't my blood. To lose him was difficult."

That's why Eric reached out right away after the trade.

"He's the first one I texted after it all happened, and we talked a few days later," Staal said. "It was a little downer on [Sutter's] side of it, but he seems to be fitting in fine over there."

Leaving Carolina was hard on Sutter too. Because he was an accomplished defensive player, he spent his four seasons with the Hurricanes anchoring the checking line, even earning recognition as alternate captain for his final two seasons. The move to Pittsburgh caught him off guard.

"It's something you don't expect," Sutter said. "You have to get your head wrapped around it. It takes some time to get comfortable with it. It's tough at first, not seeing the same guys, seeing your friends."

Sutter has assumed a similar defensive role in Pittsburgh, shutting down opponents' top lines and chipping in with offense -- four goals and eight points through 20 games -- when he can. He is feeling comfortable with his new teammates and surroundings -- at least on days when he's not feeling funny about the team on the other bench.

A concussion for Evgeni Malkin has recently given Sutter a chance to play in Pittsburgh's top six -- just as injuries to Malkin and Sidney Crosby did for Jordan Staal in recent seasons

"It feels a little different coming to this side of the rink," said Sutter, who watched the Hurricanes' morning skate. "Once the game gets going I will feel a little bit more comfortable and just worry about playing and not focus on the rest of the stuff."

While Jordan Staal might have more acclaim around the League, he and Sutter share a similar hockey profile. In addition to their defensive skills, the two 24-year-olds are tall, rangy forwards. Both offer hints of breakthrough offensive skills. Staal has a quick, accurate shot, while Sutter is a handful on breakaways, particularly on the backhand. With so many years ahead of them, the book on both centers is that there is room to grow their games.

There's no better scouting report than the one offered by Eric Staal.

"[Brandon] is slotted as a third-line center, but I think he's got the skill and talent to do a little better than that as he grows into his career," the Hurricanes captain said. "I think that's kind of where Jordan was at [in Pittsburgh]. He wanted a little more on the offensive side, a little bit more of a challenge. Brandon is capable of those sorts of things, but he's on a deep team with three centers that are pretty solid."

Reminded that he likely will shadow his former teammate Thursday, Sutter smiled.

"I've had a lot of battles against him in practice," he said. "Maybe that helps. He's obviously a very good player, very strong on the ice. It will be fun to match up against him. I'm looking forward to playing against the guys and hopefully things go well."

Meanwhile, Eric Staal won't soon forget his buddy. Not even his brother fills quite the same spot in his life.

"Brandon's grown up here in the organization and right beside me in the room," he said. "He's a great friend and a good teammate. It was really, really tough to see him go."

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