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Sutter accepting of role

| Monday, June 25, 2012, 6:56 p.m.
Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter (right) battles with Senators forward Jason Spezza during a game last season in Raleigh, N.C. Sutter will take over Jordan Staal's role as the Penguins' third-line center. (Ellen Ozier | Reuters)
New York Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin (60) is faked out on a shot by Carolina Hurricanes' Brandon Sutter (16), who scored a goal on the play, during the first period of an NHL hockey game at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)
Carolina Hurricanes' Brandon Sutter in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild Saturday, March 17, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn. The Hurricanes won 5-3. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Carolina Hurricanes' Brandon Sutter controls the puck as San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski (8) chases after him during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Being the third-line center for the Penguins wasn't always easy for Jordan Staal, who realized his game could flourish with additional responsibilities in another organization.

Now, Brandon Sutter, also 23, finds himself in the identical situation.

And he's OK with that.

Playing on a team with centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin has its perks — going to work every day with arguably the game's two greatest players isn't a bad gig — but Sutter realizes that, barring injury, he will never move up the depth chart.

“I'm four years into my career now,” Sutter said. “I've still yet to play in a playoff game. I'm at a point now where it's about winning. I want to be there for that. What goes on in the lineup, with the two big guys playing in the middle, playing behind them will be a great opportunity for me.”

Pining for additional playing time was perhaps easier for Staal because, by age 20, his name was engraved on the Stanley Cup. In many ways, Staal felt his duties as a third-liner were through and admitted over the weekend that he preferred a bigger role. Staal's defense slipped last season as he tried to become more productive offensively when he scored 25 goals in 62 games.

The Penguins are interested in their third-line center being a rock defensively against the other team's best line and being a physical presence. Staal, after all, only scored four goals in the 2009 Stanley Cup run. His defense, though, was invaluable while Crosby and Malkin combined for 29 goals and 67 points.

In Sutter, the Penguins believe they have located the gritty player whose intangibles may exceed his respectable skill. Sutter said he wants to be a more prolific offensive player and “doesn't want to play defense all the time.” But he isn't losing focus on his primary responsibility with the Penguins as the team's new shutdown man.

“It's a role I'm very comfortable with,” Sutter said. “I enjoy playing against other team's better players.”

Many in the Penguins organization believe Sutter will be the perfect fit on the third line.

“The Penguins had to make a deal,” he said. “I'm just glad they picked me.”

Fitting into Pittsburgh might require some time, but Sutter is in a better frame of mind now than he was on Friday, the day of the trade. While at a friend's house, Sutter was contacted by Carolina director of hockey operations Ron Francis and told he had been traded.

“You feel your heart stop, and you take a deep breath,” Sutter said. “It's definitely something I'm not used to. It was a tough couple of days. More of a shock than anything. Now, I'm kind of relaxed a bit.”

Sutter joked about playing against Crosby and Malkin, saying, “It wasn't always a ton of fun.”

Playing with them — or even behind them — suits Sutter just fine.

“It's a new chapter,” Sutter said. “I'm coming in to do what I've done. I'm my own player. I don't feel like I'm here to replace anyone. Jordan is a great player. Hopefully one day I can find that level that he was at. And I think I can.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-664-9161, Ext. 1975.

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