Brett Sutter is scoring more goals this season, and it may not be a coincidence.
The Checkers’ captain, who has not recorded more than 13 goals in any of his five previous AHL seasons, ranks third on the team with nine in just 25 games played. Having always been known more for his grinding, defensive style rather than his offensive prowess, a 27-goal season, which he’s currently on pace for, would represent a significant breakout.
To be certain, Sutter hasn’t changed the rest of his game, worked any harder or developed a sniper’s hands overnight. Rather, it’s what he’s done with his feet that’s made the difference.
“You’re always trying to get that extra step, but going into the summer Mr. Rutherford (the Carolina Hurricanes’ general manager) made it clear to me that some extra work on my skating would help me get to the next level,” said Sutter, a 25-year-old who played 15 games with Carolina last season. “It’s something you can work on every day in practice with your first three steps. It’s amazing how quickly your body gets used to it.”
Sutter isn’t necessarily beating several defenders on end-to-end rushes, but he said that going through a six-week power skating course during the offseason has helped him get where he needs to be to create those chances.
“It’s not just the skating – I’ve also been working on my skills a bit too,” said Sutter, who recorded his first career hat trick in October. “Having the confidence that you can handle the puck helps you move faster.
“They haven’t always been the prettiest goals, but just going to the net has helped.”
The frequency of Sutter’s goals, which is more impressive when one considers that exactly zero of them have come on the power play (only three AHL players have more goals at even-strength this season), has caught the eye of those up top, who appreciate the fact that he took their advice to heart.
“That’s the character of who he is, and he’s a captain here for a reason,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said during a recent visit to Charlotte
. “You see that he has an extra step, and ironically he’s getting some production. We want to make sure he understands what his identity is still, but adding offensive production is a bonus. I’m sure he feels good about it, because to him it’s a reward for the hard work that he did.”
Now well into the season, it would appear that there doesn’t need to be any concern about Sutter forgetting what got him to this point. His coach in Charlotte, Jeff Daniels, sees the same player he’s worked with for parts of the last three seasons.
“It starts with hard work,” said Daniels. “If you show up every day and work hard, you’re eventually going to get rewarded. Some of his goals are out-working a guy in front of the net, and others are just putting in on net because you never know what happens.”
“I think I have a different mentality with trying to shoot through traffic and always shoot it hard rather than be picky with my opportunities,” said Sutter.
Sutter’s work ethic was never more apparent than during the team’s recent struggles at home. Even during the lowest points of a team-record, five-game losing streak and beyond, he was often a bright spot for his trademark work along the boards and his newfound scoring touch, at one point scoring three times in four games when his team went 1-3-0.
Those efforts, along with help from the team’s other veterans, only one of which (Nicolas Blanchard) has played more AHL games than he, are what seem to have the team climbing out of its funk with two wins in its last three games.
“I think we all put that pressure on ourselves,” said Sutter of his role as team captain. “The leadership is by committee in there, and our last game, which I though was our best of the year (a 3-1 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday), just goes to show you what we can do.”
“We’re fortunate to have him, especially as a captain,” said Daniels. “You know every day that he’s going to compete, and even when we weren’t winning he brought it every night.”
That’s something he should continue to do, regardless of his increased offensive production.
“I think I’ve always led by example, and I always try to be a hard worker first,” he said.