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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brandon Sutter Primed for Career Season by @griffTHW

In coming to Pittsburgh, Brandon Sutter found himself with some large shoes to fill.  Effectively "replacing" Jordan Staal, the new guy in town landed in the shadow of a Stanley Cup champion and fan favorite, someone who did a little bit of everything for the Penguins.

For some, Sutter will never completely fill those shoes but he certainly made strides in emerging from Staal's shadow with a solid playoff performance last spring, one in which he was arguably the Pens' most consistent forward. 

Fresh off a two-year, $6.6 million contract extension, he'll look to build off that success during the 2014-'15 campaign.  And, following a solid training camp, Sutter sits poised to do just that as he takes aim at toppling career highs of 21 goals and 40 points.

A pair of tallies in the club's first two games has Sutter off to a strong start.  Of course, centering a line with Evgeni Malkin riding shotgun doesn't hurt.  And, while it's tough to envision Geno not ultimately returning to his natural position and subsequently bumping Sutter down to Pittsburgh's third unit, the current trio's play has clearly impressed the Pens' coach.

"...But if their line is playing like they have been, I really like the line. (Pascal) Dupuis has had lots of jump. I like the mixture of the speed on one side, playmaking on the other. Sutter controls it through the middle. I don't mind that line right now..." - Mike Johnston, on Sutter's current line
Blending speed, skill and tenacity, the combination of Dupuis, Sutter and Malkin has already accounted for 10 points on the young season.  And, with the bottom-six providing quality minutes behind them, there isn't an immediate need to break up a line that's helped the Penguins wreak havoc on the squad's first two opponents.

If and when Geno returns to center, though, don't expect the wheels to suddenly fall off for Sutter in terms of production.  He's ready for an expanded role with this team and, this year, he'll have every opportunity to take advantage of it.

"The last couple years, with the players we have on this team, I've been getting used to that third-line role. Yet I still kind of want to make it a 2-B line. I don't think you want to consider yourself just a grinding line." - Sutter, on how he views the role of his line
Obviously, that was easier said than done when Sutter was centering a third line with the likes of Tanner Glass and Craig Adams patrolling the wings. 

But, with multiple upgrades to the bottom-six during the offseason, Sutter will find himself surrounded with more talent if and when he returns to the third line.  The combination, for example, of Sutter, Beau Bennett and Steve Downie showed great promise and a budding chemistry during the preseason (of course, the long-term success of such a line would require Bennett to stay healthy).  If Bennett can't ultimately fill that role, the offseason additions of both Nick Spaling and Blake Comeau provide Johnston with options with regards to filling out the third line.

For Sutter, this will provide an opportunity to start realizing his vision for that third unit, to grow beyond "just a grinding line".  A new system under Johnston and more talented wingers courtesy of Jim Rutherford will provide the tools needed to actually start driving possession, to increase production.

The opportunity is there.  Now it's just up to Sutter to seize it.

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