One of the big acquisitions two summers ago for the Vancouver Canucks was centre Brandon Sutter. Acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sutter was brought in to help stabilize the centre position with Henrik Sedin and Bo Horvat.
Last season didn't go as planned.
After appearing in 16 games to start the season, Sutter was pulled out of the lineup due to an abdominal issue, that later was diagnosed as a sport hernia injury that required surgery. Recovery from the procedure kept him out of the lineup for 33 games last season, but he returned hoping to pick up where he left off.
Unfortunately, in his fourth game back, he was struck by a puck, which broke his jaw and required surgery. He finished the season with four goals and five assists in 20 games last season. That production doesn't show what Sutter can do in all three zones, but it does reinforce his abilities as a solid two-way centre who can provide secondary scoring.
Throughout his entire career, Sutter has produced goals at a second line rate. Although he usually hovers around a 10.0% shooting percentage, he takes enough shots throughout the season that scoring 15 to 20 goals is within reach every year. He is currently second on the Canucks in shots per 60 minutes in all situations with 7.72 S/60, trailing only Daniel Sedin.
So far this season, Sutter's point production seems to be more noteworthy - scoring the shootout winner in the season opener and then following that up with the overtime winner against Carolina the following day.
Part of that noticeable impact is because the line of Jannik Hansen, Sutter and Markus Granlund have been the most consistent line for the Canucks throughout the early parts of the season.
What has been particularly impressive about that line this year, is how effective they have been at 5-on-5 play. At the moment, Sutter currently leads the Canucks 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes, with 1.54 P/60. While Hansen is currently 4th on the team, and Granlund is 8th.
They have shown the ability to force turnovers on the forecheck, or even generate offence on the rush, and they have been led by Brandon Sutter. Who has arguably been the best Canuck so far this season.
At this moment, Sutter is currently leading the Canucks in points with one goal and four assists in seven contests. That assist production is an encouraging sign, as Sutter hasn't been very well known for his puck distribution, however as we've seen this season, he has the ability to make that perfect pass to set-up a chance.
His offensive production won't be sustainable throughout the entire season, but it proves that he can make an impact.
Sutter is an extremely effective penalty killer who helps to suppress offence while the Canucks are down a man. The Canucks at times struggled to keep the puck out of their net while on the kill, finishing the season with the 17th ranked powerplay last season. The Huntington, N.Y. native can also help the powerplay, which - like the penalty kill - struggled throughout last season finishing the campaign 15.8% efficiency and 27th ranking.
All of the aforementioned stats above are when Sutter is on the ice, but just having Sutter in the lineup has a trickle down effect to the rest of the lineup, even when he isn't on the ice. Henrik Sedin isn't expected to handle the hard defensive minutes, which allows Bo Horvat to face weaker defensive matchups so that he can use his skill-set to the team's benefit. Horvat struggled at times last year due to having the majority of the defensive responsibilities put on him, but so far this season, Sutter's line has taken some of the harder matchups and Horvat looks to have taken another step.
All of this to say that Sutter has made an impact to the lineup that likely wasn't always seen with the naked eye. He provides the Canucks with the depth needed at centre, and gives the team many options throughout the season. You can't expect someone like Sutter to burst out offensively, but he will continually make an impact that helps the team win.
Given the tumultuous season last year, we are only just starting to see what kind of impact Sutter can make for the Canucks, and so far so good.