His first day on the job, and already Brandon Sutter found himself the subject of some good-natured ribbing.
The blue-chip NHL prospect arrived at the rink for his first pro practice Wednesday morning in enough time to drop his luggage outside the dressing room, change and join his new Albany River Rats teammates on the ice at the Times Union Center.
Head coach-GM Tom Rowe laughed as he thought of the initial piece of advice he gave the Carolina Hurricanes’ first-round draft pick, who turned 19 last month.
“I told him to go buy a GPS system, because it took him forever to get here,” Rowe said following Wednesday’s skate. “His poor mom drove him up from New Jersey this morning, and he was asleep and wasn’t helping navigate too well.”
Sutter came to Albany from Red Deer, Alberta, via New Jersey, where he spent a couple days visiting with his father, Brent, head coach of the NHL Devils.
“Yeah, we had a little trouble coming into town today. We couldn’t find the rink,” a smiling Brandon Sutter said. “But we’re here now.”
Sutter is considered Carolina’s top prospect, drafted 11th overall last summer. He agreed to a three-year entry-level contract Wednesday that will formally kick in next season, paying him $787,500 at the NHL level and $65,000 in the minors, with a $262,500 signing bonus.
The Canes expect the 6-foot-3, 170-pound Sutter to contend for an NHL job next season. He’ll be with the Rats until then, scheduled to make his pro debut Sunday afternoon in Portland.
“I just want to leave a good impression with the organization and try and help these guys down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Sutter said. “I want to come in and play my game, hopefully play as much as I can and use this experience to my advantage. I’m excited to be here.”
Because Sutter has been off since his junior team in Red Deer ended its season March 15, Rowe won’t play him Friday night in Syracuse, Albany’s only other game this week.
“Because of who his dad is, he’s been taught the right way to play,” Rowe said. “He’ll bring a lot of solid, two-way hockey. We’re not going to expect a whole lot of offense from him, though I think he’ll be able to chip in. His primary responsibility is going to be being very reliable without the puck and contribute on the penalty kill.
“That’s where we’re going to start him, and let it evolve from there. If he warrants more time, then maybe we’ll give it to him. We’re going to start him out and see what he can do, just like everybody else. I don’t want to give him too much; he’s got to earn it. We’ll see what he does with it.”
Though Sutter’s arrival comes amid high expectations and his progress will be closely monitored by Carolina, Rowe was careful to caution him not to try and do too much or be a player he’s not.
“We told him we’re looking for him to go out and compete. We don’t need him to go out and score 10 points a night,” Rowe said. “We’re looking for him to bring a real good two-way game and be good on the forecheck. The systems we play, he already gets because he’s been playing them for two years.
“He has to just go play and keep it simple. That’s it. He’s played against the best junior players in the world. Now, he’s going to be dealing with bigger, stronger guys, and his biggest adjustment will be how he positions himself to be able to take advantage of players who are stronger than him.”
Sutter played at Red Deer for his father, who left to take over in New Jersey this season and was replaced by his brother, Brian, Brandon’s uncle. In all, six Sutter brothers combined to play 5,002 NHL games, each successful with a hard-nosed, no-frills style.
The ninth member of his family to be drafted into the NHL, Brandon Sutter finished as Red Deer’s leading scorer with 26 goals and 49 points in 59 games. The Rebels did not qualify for the playoffs.
“My dad just told me to go out there and have fun,” he said. “It’s awesome coming into a winning environment. It’s been a tough year with a lot of losing, so it’s nice to have a chance to come in here and win. We’re in a dogfight for first place in the division, and hopefully, we can get to the top.”
In practice, Sutter skated at right wing with center Mike Angelidis and newcomer Ben Cottreau on the left. Sutter played four preseason games with Carolina last fall,
going scoreless and minus-4 with five shots before returning to Red Deer.
“About 60 percent of the guys here were at Hurricanes camp, so there’s a lot of familiar faces,” Sutter said. “The new guys all seem like good guys. I feel pretty comfortable coming in, so that makes it much easier.”