Of the six players still in camp who are trying to break into the Hurricanes’ NHL roster, General Manager Jim Rutherford believes one has stood out head and shoulders above the others.
’s camp has been outstanding,” said Rutherford. “He leads the pack, and it’s not even close.”
Improvements to the 20-year-old second-year pro’s foot speed and faster decision making have given Sutter a fighting chance to reclaim the roster spot he earned out of last year’s camp. He scored a shorthanded goal in last night’s 4-2 loss in Atlanta, adding to the one he netted during the team’s prospect tournament victory earlier this month in Traverse City.
Those developments have served to complement the hockey sense that made him the Hurricanes’ first-round pick, 11th overall, in 2007.
”He’s one of our smartest forwards, and to say that about a 20-year-old is saying a lot,” said Rutherford.
It’s been known all along that any of the team’s prospects would need to have a terrific training camp to earn a full-time roster spot with the Hurricanes, and it appears Sutter is now approaching that territory. Be it through a trade or the simplicity of a healthy scratch, it’s always been Rutherford’s long-standing policy that veterans can be moved to accommodate young players who are deserving of a promotion.
“We’ll have to see how the veteran players play,” said Rutherford. “[Sutter] has done everything he can do. He’s put himself in a position to force the veterans to play the way they need to, because if they don’t, there’s a player sitting right there who wants one of their spots.”
That spot wouldn’t necessarily even be on the fourth line, where he earned the majority of his minutes last season.
“If he continues to play like this, he can play in the top nine,” said Rutherford.
Although the team’s next exhibition game on Friday is slated to include the bulk of the team’s established NHL players, Sutter could be given a look based on what happens during this week’s practices and how injured forwards Jussi Jokinen (finger) and Michael Ryan (probable concussion) are progressing.
If he shines enough in that game or during the preseason finale the following night in Nashville, Rutherford’s hand could be forced. If not, he’ll start the season in Albany as initially expected, although he’s now heavily on the team’s radar as a potential in-season call-up, if nothing else.
“If he makes the team it won’t surprise me, and if he’s sent to Albany it won’t surprise me,” said Rutherford. “It’s just part of preparing him to be a better player.”