The Vancouver Canucks are counting on forward Brandon Sutter to be a big piece of their foundation moving forward in the improved Pacific Division of the Western Conference.
The Canucks acquired the 26-year-old center, along with a conditional third-round pick at the 2016 NHL Draft, from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday in a trade for forward Nick Bonino, defenseman Adam Clendening, and a second-round pick in 2016.
"When the games mean something that's when he's at his best," Canucks general manager Jim Benning said of Sutter. "We looked at the other teams in our division and they all improved from the end of last season to now, and I think this move makes our team deeper and it gives us a better chance to compete with the teams in our division and in our conference."
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Benning, who said it was tough parting with Bonino and Clendening, added he wouldn't hesitate to make another trade.
"If we don't do anything more, I'm happy with the group we've assembled right now," Benning said. "We've got some good competition among the forward group, and our defense has become more mobile and will transition the puck faster. I like our team heading into the season."
Sutter has one year remaining on a two-year contract he signed with the Penguins prior to the 2014-15 season worth an average annual value of $3.3 million and can become an unrestricted free agent.
"We'll be working with his agents on a new contract today and I'm hoping in the next few days we can get something locked up," Benning said.
Sutter, who was on vacation when he received word of the trade, said he is glad the Canucks are negotiating a contract prior to the season.
"It's a good feeling and hopefully over the next few days we'll get something figured out," he said. "If you would have asked me four years ago if I thought I would have been traded twice by now, I would have said no, but I didn't want to go through the process of playing the whole year and not knowing each day what will happen and have to worry about the trade deadline."
Sutter was traded to the Penguins in June 2012 by the Carolina Hurricanes, who selected him in the first round (No. 11) of the 2007 NHL Draft. He played four seasons with the Hurricanes before being traded with defenseman Brian Dumoulin and a 2012 first-round draft pick (defenseman Derrick Pouliot), for center Jordan Staal.
In Pittsburgh, Sutter was primarily a third-line center and one of the League's top penalty-killers. He also was solid on faceoffs. Benning said it will be up to Canucks coach Willie Desjardins where Sutter fits in the lineup this season; it's possible he could become the second-line center.
"I hope so; I think with [Henrik] Sedin and Bo Horvat, I'm not too concerned with my role," Sutter said. "I just want to do what is asked of me. I hope to play an increased role and it sounds like a good opportunity to be a second-line center."
Benning said the acquisition of Sutter will allow Horvat to develop naturally and within the team structure. Horvat, selected in the first-round (No. 9) of the 2013 NHL Draft, had 13 goals and 25 points in 68 games as a rookie.
"We don't want to put any added pressure on [Horvat] to be somewhere in the lineup that he couldn't handle," Benning said. "We want to make sure he keeps developing as a player. Brandon is a proven NHL player. He's a matchup player and has played against the other team's top players and has shut them down. He can still bring offense to our team."
Sutter scored 13 goals and 26 points in 81 regular-season games and established an NHL career high with five playoff goals in 2013-14, his second season with the Penguins. Pittsburgh re-signed Sutter to a two-year contract in August 2014.
He had 21 goals and 33 points and finished with a Penguins-leading 50.6 percent faceoff efficiency in 80 regular-season games last season, his third with the organization. In 33 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all with the Penguins, he has eight goals and 12 points.
Sutter has 98 goals and 185 points in 495 NHL regular-season games.
"It's going to be fun in Vancouver," Sutter said. "The Sedins have been elite players in this League for a long time; there's not many players who have played as many years and are still very much elite. It was fun to watch them, even as a kid growing up, so it'll be fun playing with them. ...
"There are also a lot of players between the ages of 19 and 22 that are making strides on the team and a few coming up too, and that was also exciting for me. You need certain things to win in this League, and they have good goaltending, a good defense. I just thought it almost the perfect fit for me."
Benning said Sutter will serve as a leader for those young players working their way into the lineup.
"He was an [alternate] captain in Pittsburgh and he's a leader," Benning said. "He has high-end intangibles and we're going to have some young players that are going to make our team over the next few years along with Bo Horvat, so Brandon will be the leader of that younger group."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL