Brandon Sutter 2011-12 Projection

Brandon Sutter’s already had quite a productive NHL career at such a young age but I remember hearing from a few fans that last season was “disappointing” for him. It’s probably because he saw his point total drop from 40 to 29 and he scored seven fewer goals than he did the previous season. Was I hoping for more than 29 points from him last year? Yes. However, he made a lot of strides defensively last season and is really evolving as a two-way player for Carolina and should be a key part of the third line. What most fans care about are goals and points, though and here we’ll take a look at what kind of performance Carolina will get out of Sutter this season.

 

Season Age GP G A Pts EV PP SH S S% TOI
2008-09 19 50 1 5 6 1 0 0 57 1.8% 441
2009-10 20 72 21 19 40 16 5 0 168 12.5% 1191
2010-11 21 82 14 15 29 13 1 0 146 9.7% 1382

Sutter’s 21-goal season seemed to come out of nowhere and it looks even more impressive when you consider that he started 44.9% of his 5-on-5 shifts in his own zone and played primarily in a defensive role. However, his corsi ON data was below -10 which made me jump to the conclusion that it was only that low because of how many times he had to take draws in the shadow of his own net. However, a couple months ago I looked at balanced corsi numbers, which shows how a player performed territorially but uses their OZone% as context. Sutter did not appear that impressive through this metric over the course of his three seasons and his balanced corsi rating was -6.07 in 2009-10.

So what gives? Was that season a total fluke for Sutter and can we not expect him to score 20+ goals ever again? I don’t want to say that year was a total fluke, but take a look at his most frequent linemates that season and then compare them to last year. I’m pretty sure most centers would benefit more offensively from playing with Chad LaRose and Ray Whitney than they would Jiri Tlustly and Patrick Dwyer. Just for the sake of it, here’s a table that shows how Sutter did compared to his teammates.

Brandon Sutter 2009-10 Teammates

Corsi Rel. QoC Corsi ON Corsi Rel. IPP% OZone% Start OZone Fin. %
Brandon Sutter .872 -10.12 -8.5 76.9% 44.9 49.4
Ray Whitney .510 -3.28 -0.3 73% 52.1 51.4
Joni Pitkanen .371 -2.20 2.1 42.8% 49.7 50.6
Chad LaRose .829 -3.26 0.4 79.4% 47.7 46.2
Tim Gleason .825 -6.24 -5.1 29.7% 41.9 45.3

Out of the forwards here, Sutter received the toughest assignments here but appeared to do the least in terms of driving possession according to his corsi. However, the fact that he ended up with a positive zone finish differential tells us that he was doing something to drive the play. He was also involved in more of the goals he was on ice for than Whitney, but he was on-ice for about half less than the Wizard so that’s probably why. What this table is showing is that Sutter fed off strong linemates a little bit, but not completely. He saw his corsi improve slightly last season and with weaker teammates, so he could be on his way to becoming a possession driver. Or at least I hope so because it will be critical to the third line’s success.

Now, focusing more on the present, we can expect Sutter to stay on the third line with Chad LaRose and one of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Anthony Stewart or Jiri Tlustly. Ponikarovsky has been a solid possession player for his career so he seems like the best option but he may find himself higher in the lineup so it could be one of the latter two on his wing. Stewart has the ability to finish plays but is a disaster territorially while Tlutsy is not a goal-scorer at all but is decent at driving possession (or at least preventing shots against), so it will be interesting to see how the line is used there. Either way, Sutter’s going to have to make the most out of what he’s got here.

Another reason for his drop-off in point total is that he was used on the powerplay about half as much last season as 2009-10 and ten of his points came with the man advantage that year. In return, he was used more on the penalty kill and did a very solid job in that role so expect it to continue and for him to possibly be used even more there. It will benefit the team but it’s going to have an effect on his point total.

Comparable Players:

The criteria here were centers who made their debut at 18-20 years of age and had some kind of offensive production in their first two seasons. Needless to say, I did not find that many matches.

Player Year Age GP G A Pts
Radek Bonk 1998-99 23 81 16 16 32
Doug Wickenheiser 1983-84 22 73 12 26 38
Rostislav Olesz 2007-08 22 56 14 12 26
Chris Gratton 1997-98 21 82 30 32 62
Rob Niedermeyer 1997-98 23 33 8 7 15
Wes Waltz 1993-94 23 53 11 27 38
Matt Stajan 2005-06 22 80 15 12 27
Michael Peca 1996-97 22 79 20 29 49

 

GP G A Pts
Best (Gratton) 82 30 32 62
Worst (Niedermeyer) 33 8 7 15
Average 69 14 15 29
82 Game Avg. 82 19 24 43

The comparables have some pretty interesting things projected for Sutter. If he stays healthy all year, he could break his own personal point total and if he’s injured for at least 13 games, he’ll likely have a season similar to last year. However, I wouldn’t put too much thought into them as a few of these players were not third line centers on their respective teams like Sutter will likely be in Carolina this year assuming no one gets hurt. He’s still pretty young and has shown some offensive skills so this isn’t completely out of the thought.

Projection:

I see Sutter remaining in his usual third line role next season with more defensive responsibility, so I don’t think he will see his goal total increase. However, I do think he will improve his territorial game and create more chances than he did last season. He’s likely going to have better linemates and that’s helped him in previous seasons, even if it is just Chad LaRose. I also think he will be a tad more fortunate when it comes to shooting the puck, so that could help his goal total. Overall, I’d be satisfied with 13+ goals and more than 30 points from Sutter this year if he were to remain in his current role. I’ll be even happier if he becomes part of the top penalty killing unit for the entire year.

GP

G A Pts EV PP SH S S%
78 14 19 33 13 0 1 145 10.2%
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