When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired center Brandon Sutter in exchange for fan-favorite Jordan Staal, Sutter immediately had some pretty big shoes to fill entering the 2013 season.
While Sutter isn’t the offensive threat that Staal was, the value that he has brought the Penguins defensively through eight games simply can’t be overlooked.
Sutter does have some offensive ability, evident by his first goal in a Penguins uniform Saturday in a 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils, which coincidentally was the first even strength goal that he was on the ice for all season.
But the Pens offense had struggled for a few games, so I expect you will see Sutter’s name on the stat sheet much more often as the season goes on.
But his true value has come in terms of defense and intangibles.
Through eight games, Sutter is the only Penguins player not to be on the ice for an even-strength goal. A big reason for that could be the fact that the team allows less even-strength shots with him on the ice than without him.
Per 60 minutes, the Penguins average no goals against with Sutter on the ice and 2.99 without him. The same per 60 minutes stats show that the Pens average 26.4 even-strength shots against without Sutter, but only 25.6 with him on the ice.
What’s shocking about that is the way that Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma has used Sutter.
He’s been put in plenty of tough situations where you would expect goals and shots to go up, not down, but that is exactly what has happened.
Sutter has started over 60 percent of his shifts on the season in the defensive zone (advance stats via behindthenet.ca), and has been matched up against talented forwards such as Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Wayne Simmonds, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, John Tavares and plenty of others.
So far it looks like Sutter has focused more on the defensive end of the ice than the offensive, which is a blessing. His goals will come. He is a talented offensive player.
But while the Penguins may have dealt away one shutdown two-way center in the offseason, they may have just found another.