Jan 25, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) watches his team take on the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Stars shut out the Penguins 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Sutter To Breakout Next Season

Jordan Staal was essential to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Proving to be immensely valuable on penalty kills and matching up sizably with his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, Staal instilled that balance on the Pens’ third-line, which has been lacking ever since he was dealt.

Rejecting the team’s 10-year offer, Staal is now in Carolina, and Brandon Sutter replaced him in Pittsburgh. And since, Sutter hasn’t been nearly as productive as Staal was, but that could soon alter.

Recording just 19 points in 2013 and 26 points this past season, they each were Sutter’s lowest totals in his short NHL career – excluding his 50-game, five-point rookie campaign. However, because Sutter displayed exceptional hockey during these past playoffs, the 2014-15 season may be his for the taking.

Registering seven points (5G, 2A) in 13 postseason tilts, Sutter ranked third on the team in goals and finished just two points shy of Sidney Crosby‘s scoring total. With that quality effort, Sutter seemed as though he’d finally gotten comfortable, and found a way to manufacture much needed scoring chances.

Back in March, Sutter was a pawn in ex-general manager Ray Shero’s palm, as he was dangled in a trade that would’ve landed Ryan Kesler, but because the deal never came to fruition, Sutter probably came to the realization his job wasn’t safe. Since those rumors circulated, it was almost as if some switch just flipped inside Sutter, and from that point on he simply became effective.

Of course, Sutter could’ve easily just corrected a few issues and bettered his game in general, but the quick transition in play from his potential trade bait status is hard to ignore as just a coincidence. Now that Sutter is a little older, more knowledgable of the system, and honing his confidence, I can guarantee you that we’ll see his game come full circle next season, just like Matt Niskanen‘s did.

That, and because Sutter’s a restricted free agent this summer, he’s going to want a long-term extension, and you can bet he’ll follow in Niskanen’s footsteps. Maybe Sutter won’t generate as much as Niskanen did, but he’ll post some solid numbers – better than last season’s total. And for Pittsburgh, Sutter’s prompt transformation into a formidable scorer on the third-line is imperative for their chances.

It became apparent last season that the lack of secondary scoring affected the team because they were too top-heavy. That goes back to their balance issues. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were relied on too much, and it showed, when they each looked visibly exhausted at the end of the season. Of course, the Olympics had a big part in that, but the deficiency within the bottom-six forwards was utterly burdensome.

Selected in the first-round (11th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Sutter’s always had the potential to be a highly effective player; problem is, being dealt early in his career may have delayed his blossoming.

Expect Sutter to blossom next season.

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