Lacing Up: The New Center From The Other Hockey Family
In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.
Matt Paul: Josh, once again, welcome to Faceoff Factor. We’re happy to have you on board and look forward to your educated opinions. I know you’re a big fan of Brandon Sutter, so it seems fitting we re-launch “Lacing Up” with a topic that’s right in your wheelhouse. So, tell me, why are you such a fan of the new third line center from the other storied hockey family — and what will he bring to the table?
Joshua Neal: I’m glad to be aboard, Matt. I’ve been a Brandon Sutter fan ever since we started seeing him for the past few years in Carolina. Coming from one of hockey’s most storied families, Brandon certainly plays a style that would make his father (Brent) and Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup Champion coach (Uncle Darryl) quite proud. Brandon is happy to embrace his role as a lock-down defensive forward. “How does this differ from Jordan Staal?” asks the average Penguins fan. Quite simply put, Brandon is a defensive specialist – whereas Jordan Staal is a very good two-way forward. In my mind, this is not a case of Sutter replacing Staal, but of each player finding a better “fit” with their new respective team. Brandon is an ideal third-line checking center, and Jordan finds himself better suited as a second-line two-way center (or even a first-liner if Eric moves to the wing). Matt, tell me if you’re as excited to see Sutter sport the black and gold #16 as I am.
Matt: I absolutely am excited to see someone other than Kris Beech wear number 16 — who wouldn’t be? That said, you’ve made a very important point that we, as fans, need to remind ourselves of with some regularity: Sutter is not Staal. He never will be Staal. He’s a very sound defensive forward, perhaps one of the finest in the game today, and he projects to get even better as he approaches his prime years. But Staal brought so much to the ice on a daily basis that ranged from solid defense and penalty killing to timely hits and intimidation to slick passes and big goals. No, he wasn’t Sidney Crosby, but he was growing into his role as a two-way second liner. Sutter has some offensive upside, but I don’t think we’ll see a similar pattern outgrowing the third line role…do you?
Josh: I think if we see Sutter being forced into a more offensive role, it will hurt the Penguins on both sides of the game. First off, it will mean that either Crosby or Malkin is unavailable. Also, I think Sutter thrives by being able to focus on his defensive role — throwing him in looking for goals might detract from his focus and thus, his abilities on the back side of the play. He’s simply not a player with the skill set of a typical NHL second-liner, and that is not only fine, but I also believe it is a perfect fit for the Penguins system, which needs to address defense from both the forwards and on the back end in order to avoid other teams filling up the net behind them a la the atrocious Philadelphia series. Speaking of “fit,” how quickly do you think we will see an impact from Sutter? In what modes of the defensive game do you see Sutter excelling? Any concerns about what he doesn’t have in his arsenal?
Matt: Josh, that’s exactly what happened to Staal. He was forced into a second line role, was relied on for more offensive output, and shifted his focus away from defense. In the end, it’s that increased offensive role that I believe led Staal to the greener pastures of Carolina, where he will be given that opportunity on a permanent basis. As for Sutter, I’ve heard some rumblings that he has aspirations of being a second liner — but I think that’s more of a competitive thing than a realistic thing. Anyway, to answer your question, I think one of the biggest and least noticed areas he will excel in is the faceoff circle. He instantly enhances the team’s ability to win draws. That’s huge. As a result, I think we’ll see him taking a lot of crucial defensive zone faceoffs at even strength and while down a man. In general, I see him as being an advanced penalty killer (one of the best in the league, as we’ve already discussed), while also providing a nice balance of offense and defense on what could remain one of the best third lines in hockey. Since you’re the rookie, I’ll give you the last word…
Josh: Overall, I can’t stress how excited I am to see Brandon Sutter take the ice with the Penguins. As far as remaining one of the best third lines in hockey, I could not agree more; I think that placing Sutter in that position with the Penguins’ group of scrappy, fast, pesky checking wingers instantly gives you one of those lines that makes other teams’ top lines dread hopping over the boards. To the casual hockey fan, it’s tough to explain Sutter’s impact. It seems like Sutter has been in the league much longer than his age shows (he’s just 23), but perhaps that’s simply the fact that the name “Sutter” has been on the back of a hockey sweater in the NHL for three generations. Despite his young age, I think Sutter’s discipline and attitude will quickly mesh with the Penguins’ young core, and I believe his role on the team will quickly demonstrate to all of us how much of a leader he can potentially be. I think a guy like Sutter is going to make his teammates all better defenders — much in the same way it seems anyone on Crosby’s wing becomes instantly better, I think Sutter’s linemates and teammates will benefit not only in their defensive stat lines, but also in their individual defensive abilities. At the end of the day, I think perhaps we will look back and say that Shero’s biggest move on defense in the past few years was not even with a defenseman, but with a defensive forward like Sutter. Now all we need is to have a collective bargaining agreement in place, and we will all see as fans the beginning of what could be a great new era in Penguins hockey.