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Sutter the stabilizer

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
The rangy center with an incredible hockey lineage was coveted for quite some time by the Canucks. Why? Let’s find out.

Heading into the 2015 off-season, Brandon Sutter was identified by Canucks GM Jim Benning as a cornerstone player for the franchise. Shortly after trading for the former 11th overall draft pick (Carolina in 2007), Benning inked Sutter to significant five-year contract extension. Sutter was previously connected to the Canucks at the 2014 trade deadline, where it was speculated that he was offered as a part of a trade package in exchange for Ryan Kesler.

It isn’t hard to see where Sutter slots into the Canucks, both now and into the future - as a two-way compliment to Henrik Sedin, and, in a few years (or perhaps sooner), Bo Horvat. Sutter skates really well, which is a huge reason why the Canucks targeted him.

“I think the West has gotten real fast,” said Benning. “Teams are either built one of two ways. There are big, strong, physical teams that control the puck and play a heavy game. And then the other thing we’ve seen the last couple years are real fast teams. Teams that play with speed. I think Brandon’s going to help us out in that area. He’s a good skater. He’s fast. He gets in on the forecheck so he’ll help with our overall team speed.”

Here’s a good example of a few of Sutter’s best traits - speed, range with the puck, and anticipation:

With a potential 1-2 punch of Horvat and Sutter down the middle in the future, the Canucks are set up to be fast, responsible, and skilled for the next half decade (and this isn’t even counting Sedin, who is showing few signs of slowing down and should follow a similar production path as his countryman Daniel Alfredsson, if he and his brother so choose to play that long).

On the surface, Sutter should be a 15-20-goal guy each year that will play a lot in defensive situations. He won’t create a ton of offense by himself (as evidenced by his assist totals over the years), but the Canucks have a number of skilled wingers who should help Sutter find the back of the net - including Sven Baertschi, who could be a surprise offensive catalyst for the team this season. The Canucks missed having a righty on faceoffs last season, and this is another area where Sutter should help considerably.

However, the Canucks wouldn’t have made this level of commitment to Sutter if they didn’t feel he had more to give. Could he score 25 goals with better linemates and more ice time? Perhaps. Because of his new contract, many fans and media have speculated that Sutter will be locked in on the second line. Don’t be surprised to see him start the season in this capacity, but it won’t be long before Horvat is going to be demanding second line minutes. Sutter’s game is tailor-made for the third line, but Willie Desjardins will likely use him as an insurance policy on the second line of Horvat struggles with increased responsibilities (which certainly wasn’t the case last season down the stretch).

Sutter won’t ever be classified as a physical force, which may surprise folks who look at his size and last name. But he can play hard on the puck and can step his physical game up when necessary. The common theme in Pittsburgh is that he didn’t play this way as consistently as fans would have liked, though.

As already mentioned, Sutter is better suited for a third line role than a second line role. His contract may seem high for a player that won’t skate in the top six, but what Sutter will do is free up Sedin and Horvat to play in more offensive situations. It rarely makes sense to analyze trades and signings in a vacuum, and that is the case with Sutter. So much of the value the Canucks see in him comes from how he will stabilize the players around him and will allow the coaches to set lines that maximize the abilities of each player.

Sutter has a lot of hype and expectation around him heading into the 2015-16 season. The Canucks gave up a solid center, a promising young defenseman, and a strong draft pick in exchange for his services, and then they made a significant financial commitment to him soon after. His worth won’t be measured with his goals and assists, but he will need to find a way to take his offensive game to another level to deliver the type of return that the team is expecting.

He has the ability to be a difference-maker at the NHL level, and this season in Vancouver will be his best opportunity to prove that he is just that – a difference-maker.

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