Easily the most notable change to the Canucks roster not named Eddie, Brandon Sutter will begin his tenure with Vancouver with high expectations. Admittedly, high expectations are generally the only type of expectations Canucks fans ever have, but the trade and subsequent signing of the 26-year-old former 11th overall pick (2007) shows Jim Benning and co. have invested a great deal in the gritty, two-way centre.
Already a veteran of seven NHL seasons, Sutter (along with a 3rd round pick) came to Vancouver via the Nick Bonino trade that saw Bonino shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a package that also included Adam Clendening and a 2nd round pick in 2016. It was, and continues to be, a little bit of a head scratcher from Benning.
Known primarily as a defensive specialist with plenty of experience on the penalty kill, Sutter will likely be counted on for a bit more offence than in top-heavy Pittsburgh.
When asked about this in an interview with Matt Sekeres on TSN 1040 last week, Sutter said he was looking forward to being counted on in Vancouver and relishes the opportunity to be more of a leader. He noted with the makeup of this team, he is in a unique position to “bridge the gap a little bit”, something the Canucks may well need with their interesting mix of aging stars and up-and-comers.
Sekeres also brought up the subject of contributing more in the attacking zone. Sutter will be relied upon offensively much more so than during his time in Pittsburgh. The 26 year-old agreed that while he had recorded 20 goals twice in his career, the opportunity before him comes with the added responsibility of producing.
It appears Sutter could begin the season on a line centering Sven Baertschi and Radim Vrbata. Assuming Alex Burrows plays with the Sedins, this threesome could provide a modicum of secondary scoring. If Sutter and Vrbata can find some chemistry and/or success, opponents would be forced to pay attention to more than just the Sedins on the top line; a tactic that has been all too successful in recent years.
One question that has already been asked, and will likely persist, is how Sutter and second-year centre Bo Horvat stack up in the depth chart. At times last year, Horvat displayed the competency and skill level required to fill the role of a second line center, but Sutter should be given the chance to play himself out of that spot. Barring disaster or brilliance from either player, this could be an ongoing discussion.
With 33 points (21G, 12A) last year in a third line checking role for Pittsburgh, it isn’t unfair to expect Sutter to eclipse the 40 point mark this season. He’ll want to impress this year before his $4.375 million extension kicks in next year. We all know how this fanbase can react to underachieving players receiving multi-year, multi-million dollar deals.