A quick glance at our online depth chart * shows that there aren’t a ton of spots up for grabs on the Hurricanes roster this year. Established veterans abound through both the forward and defensive ranks, except for one notable slot centering the fourth line.
Brandon Sutter, the team’s first-round pick (11th overall) in 2007, is currently penciled in for that role even though he has one remaining year of junior eligibility. If the proves to be ready, as the Hurricanes believe he is, he’ll spend next season in Raleigh rather than Red Deer.
Canes GM Jim Rutherford, who seemed very high on Sutter in a recent interview, said the job was basically his to lose going into camp.
”I don’t know if lose is the right word, I guess that is the proper way to say it, but it’s really going to be more about is he ready for a long, grinding season,” said Rutherford.
When this offseason began, he hadn’t put on much weight simply because he was playing so much hockey.
As the star player on a Red Deer
team that finished 18-47-7 a year ago, good for dead last in their conference, he logged a ton of ice time, which caused him to lose weight just as fast as he put it on.
That’s not even mentioning the Canada/Russia Super Series a year ago and the World Junior Championships last January.
This summer, the Canes basically told him to stay at home and stuff his face in the hopes that he’d be able to retain some weight and be ready for the long season.
“He’s got great hockey sense, he understands the game and now it’s just a matter of, at this young of an age, if he’s ready to step in and play 82 games in the NHL,” said Rutherford.
While Coach Laviolette won’t know exactly how to use Sutter until camp is well underway, the Canes are fine with him starting on the fourth line in a more defensive role due to his excellent understanding of the game. From there, Rutherford imagines that he would be the first player to step up on a scoring line to replace an injured player.
“We feel very confident in his mental toughness and his hockey sense,” said Rutherford. “He’s a very, very good penalty killer. Is he ready to do it at this level yet? Time will tell. If he steps up and does more than we expect, I’m sure the coach will reward him with more ice time.
”There will be a lot of opportunity for him, he just has to be ready for it,” added Rutherford. “He’s got a really good future ahead of him.”
* A quick note about the depth chart – those line combinations are in no way set in stone, and are pretty much just the best guess of someone who closely follows the team (me).
I’ve seen a lot of articles in national publications recently that present those combinations as though they’ll be in effect all year in their season previews, but it is still way too early to tell. I’ll keep the chart updated as combinations change throughout the season, but for now they are just for casual reference. Feel free to play with it yourself and come up with your own combinations. Have it out in our forums to see who can come up with the best one.