by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Springtime on the East Coast always begs for a little jaunt on the open road, so Albany River Rats rookie forward Brandon Sutter savored the always-scenic bus ride his team took to Norfolk via Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last week.
"It’s all new rinks to me," he beamed during a rainy off-day afternoon in Norfolk. "New areas. It’s cool seeing different parts of the country."
Maybe these were the refreshing words of a highly touted prospect excited about skating in a new part of the continent. Or maybe they were the expression of a player who might not be in the AHL very long, so it’s easy to slap a fresh coat of paint on the mundane.
Perhaps the sentiment is a mix of both. Either way, Sutter, 19, obviously sees the world through a bit of a different prism.
But anyone who follows hockey knows that.
Sutter, the latest product in the dynastic hockey family and Carolina’s No. 1 pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, is dipping his skates into AHL action now that his season at Red Deer in the Western Hockey League is over.
Sutter is the ninth member of his family drafted into the NHL, a list that includes his dad, Brent, his former head coach in Red Deer and the current bench boss of the New Jersey Devils.
The interesting thing about the latest Sutter rolling off the family assembly line is that he appreciates that no matter how much he’s seen in his life – and that’s a lot – there’s still so much more deserving of awe.
Brandon was a stickboy for his father’s 2001 Red Deer team that won the Memorial Cup. That team featured forward Kyle Wanvig.
Hey, whatcha know, Wanvig now plays for Norfolk, so Sutter gets to go from admirer, to peer, to opponent.
"I grew up watching these guys and cheering for them. It’s kind of weird, but exciting," Sutter said. "When I was younger I never imagined I would be playing against them. They seemed so bigger and stronger."
Ah, but even for a man still in his teens, that was so long ago. It was before he contributed 46, 57 and 49 points, respectively, for Red Deer the past three seasons. And before he skated on Canada’s 2008 gold medal World Junior team.
Those are the types of things that Sutters do in hockey. They may not be born into automatic greatness, but that’s a quality certainly expected from them. Brandon’s father alone played 18 seasons in the NHL and won two Stanley Cups.
"For the most part, I don’t feel too much pressure," Brandon said. "Obviously, I have a common name in the hockey world. I love being a part of my family. I have respect for the way my dad and uncles play. It’s the way they played and grew up. They played like every day was their last day. That’s the mentality you have to have.
"Obviously, it’s a little different for the second generation of us. But the same mentality has carried over. I’m happy with the way my parents raised me."
New Red Deer head coach Jesse Wallin coached under brothers Brent and Brian Sutter with that team and played under Darryl Sutter in Calgary. He understands the lower-key approach that Brandon takes toward some parts of his development.
"His dad’s generation is very intense, very driven. They are all business," Wallin said. "(Brandon is) a little more laid back than the older generation. I think that’s a good thing. I think they (the second generation) have developed that to avoid putting pressure on themselves. When Brandon steps on the ice, he has fire in his eyes."
Brandon’s priorities come through when asked the best piece of advice his dad ever gave him. The assumption would be it centered around fitness or X’s and O’s. Nope. Dad told his prodigy to remember to be a nice guy and realize that no matter how good you are, professionally speaking you have to watch your back.
"Growing up, he always told me treat other people the way you wanted to be treated," Brandon said. "That comes into play more off the ice. In terms of hockey, he said make sure you get better every day because there’re always players who want to take your job."
Wannabes better pack a lunch when they come after Sutter’s spot. Rats coach Tom Rowe said Sutter has the playing style of – and here’s a shocker – a coach’s son. It’s a familiar feeling for Rowe. In a one-in-a-million oddity, he’s coaching the sons of two current NHL head coaches. Brandon Nolan, son of New York Islanders boss Ted Nolan, also plays for Albany.
Sutter, Rowe said, is an obvious student of the sport’s overlooked nuances, like measuring the tempo of a game, keeping his stick in the right position for the anticipated play and focusing on the simple moves.
"His game is really organized," Rowe said. "I’d say first impressions are really favorable. The expectations are always going to be there for this guy. I’ve just told him to jump into the situation with both feet, don’t be tentative. I’ve told him there’s a lot of history in your family, you can carry it on."
Such noble goals usually start with humble beginnings. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Sutter recorded his first pro point in his second contest by garnering an assist vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on April 2. Predictably, Sutter viewed it like it was the first time he ever cracked the score sheet.
"Obviously, it’s cool," said Sutter, who then scored his first pro goal April 4 vs. Norfolk. "The first couple of games have gone pretty well."
Depending upon how far Albany goes in the playoffs, the AHL might not get a much longer look at Sutter. Based on family history and current potential, this could be a one-month-and-done type of thing for Sutter in the developmental league.
"I think there’s no question in a lot of ways he’s ready (for the NHL)," Wallin said. "Could he play at that level next year? Absolutely."
Which is all the more reason to appreciate everything along the way until he gets there.
"Coming here was a good situation for me," Sutter said of Albany. "It gives me a good chance to leave an impression with the organization. I’m going to enjoy the playoffs. The next couple of weeks should be interesting."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.