In the Hurricanes' first full season without Rod Brind'Amour since 2001, Brandon Sutter more than proved himself worthy of the title of defensive heir-apparent. Sutter was named an alternate captain in the 2010 offseason and lived up to the billing, leading the team with a +13 while allowing the Canes the luxury of running three lines every night.
While Sutter is a restricted free agent and will likely earn a hefty raise over his $875,000 salary from last season, there's almost no way Sutter will be in any other jersey come October, as he has established himself in the small group of players that will remain part of the team for a long time - and given everything he's done for the team over the past three seasons, it's hard to remember that he just turned 22 in February.
#16 / Center / Carolina Hurricanes
Feb 14, 1989
|2010 - Brandon Sutter
The Good: Sutter didn't score many goals, but the ones he did score were meaningful. In the 12 games in which Sutter lit the lamp, the Canes were a remarkable 11-0-1, and 19-5-2 overall when Sutter had at least a point. His three game-winning goals placed him third on the roster, behind Erik Cole (9) and Eric Staal (8), and he played an average of 2:21 per game on the penalty kill, by far the highest of Hurricanes forwards.
Sutter's +13 rating was not only the highest on the team, it was six points higher than the next highest Hurricane (Derek Joslin and Brett Carson, +7) and ten points higher than any other Carolina forward (Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen, +3). In a testament to Sutter's flexibility, he was placed with different linemates almost constantly; Gabriel Desjardins' statistics show that Patrick Dwyer played with Sutter only 44% of the time, yet he was the linemate most often paired with Sutter.
The Bad: While Sutter focused on defense more this season than in any prior year, his offense took a step backward in 2010-11. He dropped from 21 goals last year to 14 this season, and that despite playing a full season for the first time in his career. His faceoff percentage also slipped considerably, from 49% last year to 44% this season. Sutter was also susceptible to scoring droughts, including a one-point-in-15-games slump starting in late December and continuing through most of January and a seven-game pointless skid down the stretch in late March and early April before rebounding with points in the Canes' final two games of the season.
The Canes' penalty kill, of which Sutter was an integral part, was fairly pedestrian for most of the season, though it heated up late in the year culminating in a perfect 11-for-11 stretch in the last five games of the year.
The Money: 2010-11 was the final year of Sutter's entry-level deal, paying him $875,000 per year and leading him into restricted free agency this offseason. Sutter has said repeatedly that he enjoys playing here and Jim Rutherford is highly unlikely to trade him, so penciling Sutter in on the opening night roster next season is about as sure a bet as there is.