By Kirk Luedeke
When it comes to bloodlines and the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, names don’t come with much more recognition than that of Saskatoon Blades center Lukas Sutter.
|Lukas Sutter led the Saskatoon Blades with 165 penalty minutes in 2011-12, while also ranking third on the club with 59 points. (Getty Images)|
The Missouri-born teen may not have the projected NHL potential of fellow WHLers and sons of former NHL stars like Griffin Reinhart and Henrik Samuelsson (both with the Edmonton Oil Kings), but his pedigree is 100 percent Sutter. In fact, Rich Sutter’s kid is every bit the package of tenacity, grit, toughness and big-game ability that his father and uncles brought to the NHL for nearly four decades. The latest offering of the hockey dynasty from Viking, Alberta, could be a top-60 pick in Pittsburgh June 22-23, but young Sutter is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s still family—there’s no real difference,” Sutter told New England Hockey Journal when asked about being the closest thing to hockey royalty there is. “I’ve had chances to go to a few NHL games with Calgary being so close, and I’ve been lucky to learn the game from so many in my family who played the game at the highest level.”
The 18-year-old is coming off of his best major junior season after scoring 28 goals and 59 points for the Blades. He also racked up 165 penalty minutes, giving him a robust 344 minutes in the sin bin over his last two full years in Saskatoon. His physical game is a welcome addition to just about any team, and his 26 fighting majors in two seasons are a testament to his willingness to back up his play and defend teammates.
“I think I’m an honest two-way player,” Sutter said. ”I’m a hard-working guy, and I try to be a hybrid of Jarrett Stoll and Mike Richards. I want to be defensively aware, a shutdown player like Stoll, but I feel that I have some upside and play with my heart on my sleeve like Richards. They’re leaders on that team and I try to bring that same element.”
Sutter naming two current Los Angles Kings players is no accident. After all, he just watched as his uncle Darryl Sutter coached Stoll, Richards and the rest of the Kings to the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup championship. After failing to close the deal in 2004 when Darryl’s Calgary Flames pushed the Tampa Bay Lightning to seven games before bowing out, his Kings finished off the Devils in six to bring another Stanley Cup to the Sutter family (Duane won four with the Islanders from 1980-83, Brent was on the Isles’ last two Cup winners).
Born in St. Louis while his father was playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, the younger Sutter was raised and trained in Alberta. Despite his Canadian heritage, Sutter actually wore USA colors at the 2010 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament for the American silver medal-winning Under-18 Select Team.
“It was certainly an eye-opener,” he said of the international experience with a Team USA club that included 2011 draft picks Connor Murphy and John Gaudreau among others. “I came off a tough season with shoulder surgery and didn’t know if I would have the opportunity to make the team. I kind of expected to be a depth guy, but as the tournament went on, I was given more chances to play.
“I would say I’m a guy who relishes pressure situations, so I think I certainly grew from the experience of playing in that competition, even if we came up just a little short of our ultimate goal.”
Sutter was one of USA’s most dangerous offensive players in that tournament, a dimension that took some time to emerge for him as he took his game to the rugged WHL.
Sutter spent the entire 2010-11 season creating a wide berth for himself. Although he scored just four goals and 19 points for the Blades, his 19 fighting majors despite possessing pretty average size at 6-foot, 200 pounds established Sutter as a fiery competitor who won’t back down from anyone.
“Luke’s a chip off the Sutter block for sure,” said an Eastern Conference NHL scout who is based in Western Canada recently. “Even if he may not possess elite skills, he’s such a tenacious player who creates chances for himself and his linemates because of his hard work. If I have one concern beyond his average skating, it is that he’s got to rein the emotions in. He’s taken some bad penalties, so he needs to guard against putting his team in tough situations.”
Sutter agrees that he has things to work on if he is going to achieve all he is capable of in hockey.
“I can’t ever be a good enough skater,” he said. “That’s kind of been a knock throughout my career. For me, I always have to improve the little plays around the net, my puck skills and things like that.”
As for the scout’s concern about the frequent trips to the penalty box, Sutter knows it’s an area that requires some attention on his part.
“I play on the edge and I have to be willing to stand up when challenged on it,” he said. “It’s something I take pride in and it’s not the easiest job in the league.
I also have to work on picking my spots and not hurt my team with undisciplined penalties at the wrong time.”
Sutter has had a lot of help over the years in honing his overall game, with first-hand instruction received at hockey camps run by his dad and uncles and by seeing several cousins play in the NHL. He also credited an influence from outside the Sutter clan in former NHL forward with the Islanders, Kings, Sabres, and Bruins, Mikko Makela, who was a coach and mentor of his in bantam.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate,” he said. “My family has been such as big influence in my career. I wouldn’t be the player I am today without them.”
Like most kids who grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL, the draft which is just a little over a week away, is coming into focus for him after he attended the scouting combine in Toronto.
“You work all season for this,” he said before heading East for his biggest chance to convince NHL clubs to take him sooner rather than later. “The biggest thing is the interviews with the teams. It’s still early summer, so there is a lot of room for improvement. It’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m excited about the chance to establish relationships with the other guys going through it with me.”
With the latest member of the Sutter family ready to add to the storied legacy, the 2012 draft hopeful may be a project, but has the same kind of toughness and tenacity that allowed his dad to play almost 900 NHL games with seven different teams.
Even so, Sutter knows that the six letters on the back of the sweater alone won’t suffice for him to realize his own NHL goals.
“One of the things that has always helped me is that my last name hasn’t gotten me anywhere,” he said. “I’ve had to work for everything, and that won’t change after the draft.”