RALEIGH, N.C. — Following Thursday’s contest between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes, a tired, sweaty and emotionally drained Brandon Sutter stood in front of his locker at PNC Arena as a swarm of reporters surrounded him. The Red Deer, Alberta native has grown quite comfortable in this building over the years, but tonight, everything felt different — or, as he said, “kind of weird.”
Instead of setting up in the Hurricanes’ dressing room next to Eric Staal — as he had done many times before — Sutter found himself in the more cramped, muggier visitors’ quarters, not donning red and black as he had for four seasons; but rather, wearing black and gold.
Since being dealt to Pittsburgh this summer as part of the trade that united Jordan Staal with his eldest brother, Sutter has begun a new (and initially unexpected) chapter in his young NHL career with the Penguins. And while his time in Carolina came to an abrupt end in July, the 24-year-old remains appreciative of his time with the Canes.
“I look back on my years in Carolina very fondly,” Sutter said. “Obviously it all came to an end in a surprising way, but I’m still thankful for what that organization did for me.”
Sutter logged 14:49 of ice time on Thursday, mustering just one shot on goal. While he didn’t stand out much in a positive way, he didn’t make any significant mistakes, either.
The Penguins would fall by the score of 4-1, but Sutter was not on the ice for any of the Hurricanes’ goals.
“It’s kind of nice to get that first game out of the way against your old team,” he said. “It’s a little different feeling coming to your old rink as the opponent, but I have to get used to it.”
Despite moving roughly 500 miles up the Atlantic Coast, Sutter says he still remains friends with many Hurricanes players, particularly guys like Jeff Skinner, Tim Brent and Jiri Tlusty.
“I guess it’s kind of tough to name everyone right now,” he said. “But we’re all still pretty close.”
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Even though he’s joined a more offensively potent team, Sutter’s first year in the Steel City has started somewhat slow. After registering an assist in the season opener at Philadelphia, he went six straight games without a point before potting his first goal of 2013: a second period tally against New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur.
That goal would be the first of three he would score over a five-game span, giving Penguins fans hope that he could become another top-tier weapon to compliment the plethora of stars already on that roster. However, with just two points (1G, 1A) in nine games since that streak, it remains unclear what kind of production Pittsburgh can expect from the young center moving forward.
But regardless of his inconsistent scoring, Sutter’s teammates certainly have his back and appreciate what he brings to the table.
“He’s been a great addition this year,” Tanner Glass said of Sutter. “He plays a similar game as Jordan Staal, but with a different shot. He’s big, strong on the puck and is useful in any situation.”
While the offense may not be up to expectations, Sutter has done well in his best areas: killing penalties, playing responsible defense and bringing a gritty yet disciplined brand of hockey to the ice.
“Even when he doesn’t show up on the score sheet, he’s helping our team,” Glass added. ”We’re definitely happy to have him, he’s been very valuable to us in the early going.”
Andrew Hirsh is a credentialed NHL writer based in North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewhirsh or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.