Sutter dawns his #16 jersey as a Penguin for the first time, as he meets the Pittsburgh media inside the team's locker room.

Brandon Sutter Faces Pivotal Test Replacing Jordan Staal

The Pittsburgh Model. The Pittsburgh Penguins were a struggling franchise in the early 2000s, as legend Mario Lemieux transitioned from player to also handling duties as the owner. Lemieux saved the team and took advantage of the high draft picks his team was given for having poor seasons. The Penguins selected center Evgeni Malkin, center Sidney Crosby, and center Jordan Staal in three years, thus creating what is known around the league as ‘The Pittsburgh Model’.

On June 22, 2012, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took the podium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to announce the Carolina Hurricanes’ eighth overall selection in the draft. “We have a trade to announce. And for those of you in the building, you’ll be particularly interested.” The fans at the Consol Energy Center were shocked and curious, as they jerk their heads to stick their eyes on the Commissioner. “Pittsburgh trades Jordan Staal…” the crowed erupts with excitement and shock… “… to Carolina in exchange for Carolina’s own first round draft pick in this 2012 draft, and Brandon Sutter, and Brian Domoulin.”

Since the 2006-07 season, the Penguins have relied on their trio of centers to dominate the NHL. The three young stars led the team to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals. They led the team to the Cup Finals again in 2009, this time winning the series in seven games. Crosby became the youngest captain to hoist the Stanley Cup. Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player. Staal scored a momentous goal in Game 6 to send the series to Detroit for a Game 7.

Once the 2012-13 season finally begins, the Penguins will take the ice for the first time without their three stars in black and gold. Crosby and Malkin are expected to continue their scoring dominance. However, centering the team’s third line will be Brandon Sutter. How will Sutter do?

Jordan Staal did not have to score a lot of goals for the Penguins with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin centering the top two lines and dominating the power play together. Brandon Sutter is obviously not quite as talented offensively as Staal, but he is a talented center himself – a former first round pick in 2007. Offensive production will be as stellar as usual for the prolific Penguins’ attack, with Sutter producing at the highest rate of his career.

The offense is always exceptional in Pittsburgh, but with an already struggling defensive core, many are wondering how the loss of Jordan Staal will affect an already bad penalty killing unit?

I wondered this myself, but then I remembered something I saw during Game 5 of the Flyers/Penguins playoff series from this past season. I was at the game live with a friend. Just like most of the series, the two teams were penalized pretty frequently, so I got to see a lot of both teams’ special teams units. Surprisingly, Jordan Staal was not on the ice often. He was used to win the face-off, then he would quickly skate off the ice, and Craig Adams would take his place to actually kill the penalty.  If Brandon Sutter desires to be a fan-favorite in Pittsburgh, he must be efficient in the face-offs circle. Sutter won 51% of his draws with the Hurricanes last year – a rate not quite effective enough for Sutter to succeed replacing Jordan Staal as a penalty killer. However, with help from Coach Bylsma and Captain Sidney Crosby, I believe Sutter will improve in face-offs.

Replacing a star like Jordan Staal is not easy, but having great players around Sutter will make it easier. If Sutter fails to score goals, it may prevent Bylsma and his coaching staff from putting Crosby and Malkin together for their usual few minutes per game. If Sutter can score more goals than Staal did, Penguins’ fans may see Crosby and Malkin on the ice together even more.

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