coach Paul Maurice
says the sky's the limit for center Brandon Sutter
Since taking over as head coach on Dec. 3, Maurice has seen not only the tenacious style of play so synonymous with the Sutter name, but an intelligence uncommon in most rookies.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing this young man develop and improve because I think he's not just going to be your normal grinding, hard working guy," Maurice said. "There's a lot more to his game. He's got some hands and a great head on his shoulders."
It wasn't too long ago that Sutter's head was a major topic of discussion after he suffered a concussion after a collision with the Islanders' Doug Weight
. Sutter was sidelined eight games after the hit.
"I've seen the hit on video and it was pretty scary," Sutter told NHL.com. "I don't really like watching it too much and seeing it afterward. It wasn't a good feeling at all, but I really don't remember much of that game in all honesty; maybe that's a good thing. I saw that my head was down and I was reaching for the puck … it is what it is."
Sutter prefers talking about his future with the Hurricanes. That's a topic that has Hurricanes associate coach Ron Francis
grinning ear to ear.
"Right from day one, the thing that impressed me most was his hockey sense," Francis said. "He's an extremely smart hockey player for a young kid. To be able to come into this game and be used in the situations we use him is pretty impressive. He comes with that Sutter name and he certainly fits that mold. He's a great kid who works hard and tries to fit in and help the team whenever his number is called."
Sutter, a fourth-line player who has averaged 10 minutes in 23 games, has been a major contributor in penalty-killing situations while also earning time on the power-play unit. Sutter, who is currently second in the League among NHL rookies in average ice time (3:08) while shorthanded, has dished out 27 hits while chipping in with 13 blocked shots and 15 takeaways.
"He's not only been out there when we're a man down, but we've also had him killing penalties while two men down," Francis said. "He's just very responsible. Whether it's the right position in the fore-checking zone, neutral zone or in our defensive zone, it's pretty impressive to see that for a young guy."
Sutter just wants to make the most of his opportunity. That's something his father, Brent, the current coach of the New Jersey Devils
, stressed to him prior to his NHL debut against the Florida Panthers
on Oct. 10.
"My dad told me once you get to this level, you just have to make sure you're getting better every day when you're coming to the rink because there's always someone there to take your job," Sutter said. "So, to me, it's just a matter of getting better and proving to everyone that you want to be here."
Francis knows it might take some time before Sutter is confident enough to exhibit that same flair he did in the Western Hockey League with the Red Deer Rebels. In 2007-08, Sutter served as an alternate captain for Red Deer and led the team in goals (26) and points (49), despite playing in just 59 games.
"It's a process in adjusting to the speed and the type of the game that's played here in the NHL, but also, that's something that comes naturally," Francis said. "It also takes time for a young guy to fill out his body and get stronger. Brandon isn't the biggest or strongest kid, but he's still very young and when that process starts to take place over the next year or two, I think you will start to see him become more and more dominant."
Sutter has appeared relatively comfortable in his role and is looking forward to the day when that role is expanded.
"Everything is just a step quicker in the NHL, but I think just from what I learned playing junior that I feel pretty comfortable no matter what situation I'm in, whether killing penalties or in my zone," Sutter said. "Offensively, I think it takes time to turn yourself into a goal scorer and, hopefully, in time I could do that. Right now, I kind of play in a checking role, so I'm just trying to do that the best I can."
Sutter, Carolina's first round draft choice (No. 11 overall) in 2007, was the ninth member of his family drafted into the NHL.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing this young man develop and improve because I think he's not just going to be your normal grinding, hard working guy. There's a lot more to his game. He's got some hands and a great head on his shoulders." -- Paul Maurice on Brandon Sutter
"It's pretty cool to just go and play and nice to be a part of a hockey family that has such a tradition," Sutter said. "But I'm no different than any other player out there so I just go out and play to help the team."
Maurice has been encouraged with Sutter's desire to improve during practice and game situations.
"He has an outstanding stick," Maurice said. "Now that may sound strange, but I don't think you can teach that. He has that ability to effectively knock pucks down, which is unusual for a 19-year-old player at this level."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.