Pittsburgh Penguins: Can Brandon Sutter Fill Jordan Staal's Skates?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2012

Brandon Sutter will always work hard to get himself in the proper position.
Brandon Sutter will always work hard to get himself in the proper position.Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

There will be joy in the National Hockey League when the lockout (hopefully) comes to an end.

There will be significant hope in Pittsburgh that the Penguins are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender once the season begins in earnest.

There's little doubt that the Penguins are a strong playoff team that will be capable of making a long run. When you have not one but two of the league's elite players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the roster, you become tough to beat each night.

However, when the Penguins moved Jordan Staal to Carolina in June and replaced him with Brandon Sutter, that added a new variable to the equation.

Staal was the Penguins' No. 3 center behind Crosby and Malkin, and he was never going to rise above that level as long as he stayed in Pittsburgh and those players remained on the roster.

Staal clearly has first- or second-line talent, and he wanted a new opportunity. He wanted that opportunity in Carolina, so he could have a chance to play with his brother Eric Staal, the Hurricanes' best all-around player and their face of the franchise.

Staal will get a chance to spread his wings and fly, play with one of his brothers and help a team that has finished out of the money for three consecutive seasons to make it back to the playoffs.

But what are the Penguins getting? Are they getting a player who can man the No. 3 role as well as Staal did, or are they going to lose some talent because of the deal?

Sutter is a hard-working center with excellent defensive skills. When the Penguins played against the Hurricanes, it was often Sutter who had the responsibility of checking Crosby (when he was healthy and in the lineup) or Malkin.

The Penguins see him fulfilling the same role in Pittsburgh. Penguins general manager Ray Shero believes that Sutter's presence in the lineup gives Pittsburgh as much strength at that position as any team in the league.

"We’ve got three centers," Shero told NHL.com. "That’s the strength of our team. We’re looking for Brandon to being a big part of that. It was pretty important to me in building this team to have a young center like that to put with Crosby and Malkin."

Staal is a bigger man than Sutter. Staal checks in at 6'4" and 215 pounds, while Sutter is 6'3" and 185 pounds. But don't sell Sutter short because he is outweighed by 30 pounds. There's a lot of bulldog in both his personality and his style of play. He will aggressively go after opponents in the corners in an effort to take possession of the puck and assert himself.

Staal is likely to become more of a scorer in Carolina because he will no longer be a No. 3 center. Staal scored 50 points in 62 games last year. That's his career high, and he reached it even though he was limited by injuries. A 70-to-80-point season seems likely for Staal as a jumping off point this season.

It's not likely Sutter will come close to that range. Sutter had 17 goals and 15 assists in 82 games last season. If he's going to have a better year on the offensive end, 40-to-45 points seems like his outer limits at this point in his career.

Sutter has a ways to go to match Staal as an offensive player. However, when it comes to defense, physical play and grittiness, Sutter has much to offer and could be the kind of player who helps the Penguins reach their Stanley Cup aspirations.