The 19-year-old center, and son of New Jersey Devils coach Brent Sutter, has proven to be a tenacious puck-pursuer with an equally relentless work ethic while showing a good scoring touch for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.
He was one of 11 prospects to attend Carolina's annual conditioning camp in Raleigh in July. Of that group, he is the lone player projected to join the big club right out of training camp this fall. In fact, Sutter signed a three-year entry-level contact on March 26.
"I feel I've trained hard and done the right things, so hopefully (reaching the NHL) will become a reality this year," Sutter said. "If not, I'll spend another year of junior. I want to make the team, that's my goal. I can't see a better way to develop than playing in the NHL. This is not an easy team to make, but I'm going to come to (training) camp and try my best."
There's a strong chance Sutter could fill the vacant fourth-line center role or even emerge as the team's third-line center by season's end.
"We feel he's ready," Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford said. "There's a spot for him."
In 205 games with Red Deer over 3½ seasons, Sutter scored 68 goals and finished with 154 points and 136 penalty minutes. In 59 games this past season, the 6-foot-3, 183-pounder had a career-high 26 goals and team-high 23 assists despite the fact Red Deer, which finished last in the WHL's Eastern Conference, was outscored 255-145. He also helped Team Canada win this year's World Junior Championship, chipping in an assist and plus-1 rating in seven games.
"Being drafted was one highlight of my career and something very special, but coming to (training) camp last year was also great and to have a chance to play World Juniors was amazing," he said.
Sutter was also a member of Team Canada for the 2007 Super Series, helping lead the Canadians to a 7-0-1 mark against Russia with three goals and two assists in eight games while playing for his father. In Game 7 of the Super Series, played in Red Deer, Brandon scored a shorthanded goal and was named Player of the Game.
"It was pretty cool," Sutter said. "(Dad) coached me in junior and it was nice to have him behind the bench with me for the Super Series. It was a good experience. In terms of having him as a coach as compared to a parent at home, it's obviously two different stories. At the rink, it's business and it's intense, but I kind of knew that and expected that. I think he was a great coach and mentor for me when I was 16, 17 years old."
In Red Deer, Sutter also had an opportunity to play with his cousin, Brett Sutter, a sixth-round selection (179th overall) by Calgary in 2005. Brett, the 21-year-old son of Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter, spent two seasons (2005-07) with the Rebels.
"It was awesome, he was traded (to Red Deer from Kootenay) a couple of years ago and we had a lot of fun together," Brandon said. "When we were little, we always hoped to have an opportunity to play together and we did, so that was something. Now, our goal is to reach the NHL as soon as we can. I know he has already spent a full year in the AHL (with Quad City) and got a taste to what it's like."
"I want to make the team, that's my goal. I can't see a better way to develop than playing in the NHL. This is not an easy team to make, but I'm going to come to (training) camp and try my best." -- Brandon Sutter
Brandon also had a chance to experience the American Hockey League when he was promoted to Albany for seven games at the end of the WHL season; he had two points in seven appearances.
The ninth member of his family to be drafted into the NHL doesn't admit to the pressure associated with the Sutter name.
"My family has helped me with a lot of things growing up, and I try to use that to my advantage," Sutter said. "But I'm just another player out there."
After 10 months of constant hockey from July through April, Ron Francis, Carolina's director of player development, recommended that Sutter take some time off in order to rehabilitate his muscles and put on some weight.
"I felt it was important to shut him down a little bit and give him a rest," Francis said. "We eased up on the cardio training and prepared a diet for him to assist in his getting stronger and adding more weight. Our concern was that he was a little bit light. He's played a lot of hockey the last few years for Team Canada, the World Junior Championships and in the Canada-Russia series and was probably playing 25-plus minutes a night in Red Deer last year. As a result, he lost some weight.
"He's a kid from great bloodlines and he thinks the game extremely well," he continued. "We're confident he can take that next step to the NHL."
Sutter has added 10 pounds since the end of last season and hopes the added strength will boost his chances. He's grateful that a Hall of Famer like Francis is nearby to lend a hand.
"He's around quite a bit whenever I'm in Raleigh, and he's always skating and helping out," Sutter said. "He's so smart and knows so much about the game. He has such a good mental focus and, in terms of advice, he has offered me quite a bit of everything. It's great to know that a player with the credentials of Ron Francis is always available."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.