Hurricanes Turn Eye to Signing for Depth and Future

Brandon Sutter, photo by Gregg Forwerck / NHLI via Getty Images

After their first week of free agency focused on replacing scoring from the wing and swapping one accomplished defenseman for another, the Carolina Hurricanes  turned in-house with signings of some younger players (all 24 or under) who have started making an impact in the NHL.

Five players inked deals starting July 8, with center Brandon Sutter and blue-liner Derek Joslin on the NHL roster while forward Brett Sutter and defensemen Brett Bellemore and Bobby Sanguinetti all signed two-way deals and will likely start the season with the AHL-affiliate Charlotte Checkers. The signings, even those only for one year, continue a pattern of instilling solid depth and development throughout the organization and building a core that’s both competitive now and sustainable for the future.

The biggest signing of the week is the epitome of this philosophy. Brandon Sutter, 22, signed a three-year contract which Hurricanes President & GM Jim Rutherford categorized as a key piece of the organization’s foundation now.

"Brandon is one of the cornerstones of our franchise moving forward,” Rutherford said. “He is an extremely intelligent player who can perform in all situations, and has already grown into a leadership position for the Hurricanes at a very young age."

While Sutter’s scoring regressed during the past season, he proved to be a reliable teammate in defensive situations, anchoring the penalty kill and blocking a team-high 73 shots, good for seventh among all forwards league-wide. A young player who has demonstrated ability on both ends of the ice and 82-game durability is tough to find, and the Canes were wise to lock in their 2007 first-round draft pick for another three years.

Brandon Sutter isn’t likely to become the next Eric Staal, and that’s not what the team needs right now, but as he fills out his 6’ 3” frame he may more closely resemble the game of Staal’s brother, Jordan, in Pittsburgh. Staal broke into the NHL with a monster season at age 18 (2006-7) and is a third-liner for the Penguins simply because of their depth (when healthy). Using HockeyReference.com’s point shares to compare players, we can see Staal produced 4.5 point shares in his age 20 season (2008-9), similar to Sutter’s 4.5 in his age 20 year (2009-10).

While those numbers show a baseline comparison is possible, framing Sutter as a Jordan Staal clone is neither my intention, nor fair to either player. What is fair to say is that both of these men do what their team asks of them and play a well-rounded game that rarely gets the attention it deserves. Sutter has proven himself as a teammate who will be in the right places on both ends of the ice – a valuable commodity the coaching staff can put in key situations at any time and know the whole squad’s better for it. That’s how someone finishes a “down” year statistically plus-13.

Derek Joslin, photo by Benjamin ReedDerek Joslin, acquired mid-season from San Jose, made a significant impact from the blue line in just 17 games with the Hurricanes. The 24 year old had one goal, four assists, and a plus-7 rating after trading coasts. His 34 total games were a career-high, and the Hurricanes are likely to give him the opportunity to compete with Bryan Allen for a spot in the third defensive pairing along side Jamie McBain.

[Derek Joslin, photo by Benjamin Reed]

The Charlotte Checkers will welcome familiar faces Sanguinetti, Bellemore, both 23, and Brett Sutter, 24, to their roster should training camp not yield an invite for either of the three to stay in the NHL. Sanguinetti was a reliable member of the Checkers defense last season despite missing about half of the year with a hip injury. A first-round draft pick of the Rangers in 2006, he has proven his ability to be a scoring and passing threat from the back of the zone; the Hurricanes have to be counting on his defensive presence and discipline to improve so he can begin competing for a role in the top four of the NHL corps.

Bellemore, on the other hand, has crafted his game on reliable positioning and determination. Carolina signed him to a two-year contract based on the skills he used to garner a plus-8 rating in the AHL last season and his potential to be a constant force on the penalty kill and in late-game shutdown situations.

Charlotte Checkers logo from www.gocheckers.comBrett Sutter, a forward coming off a strong postseason campaign in which he led the team in points, got a one-year contract and will compete for playing time with the Hurricanes. Starting the season, though, he’ll have a hard time finding a spot on the wing with the likes of Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman, both having played 23 games for the Canes last year, also vying for time in the 2011-12 season.

These five players represent a commitment by the Carolina franchise to bolster its depth and consistency in all levels of play, providing insurance against injury and assets for trades should a larger need present itself. The Canes are setting a scenario for solid competition now and the potential for sustained success long-term.

LATE NOTE: Carolina added some veteran leadership to the Checkers' forward ranks late Friday by signing 30 year old Chris Druno, who has amassed over 360 games of AHL service, most recently as captain of Charlotte rival and Tampa Bay Lightning-affiliate Norfolk Admirals.

Druno’s signing comes on the heels of the departure of Jacob Micflikier, the Checkers’ third-leading scorer last year, who signed a two-way contract with Washington this week. The Capitals were particularly familiar with Micflikier’s abilities, as the Checkers and the Washington-affiliate Hershey Bears have maintained a competitive rivalry in the AHL.