Penguins set bar high for Brandon Sutter

PITTSBURGH -- There is no questioning Jordan Staal's value as a player, and there is no doubt he will be missed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who dealt the big center to Carolina at June’s draft.

But -- and this might sound heretical given Staal’s stature both in Pittsburgh and around the league -- is there any reason Brandon Sutter can’t be Jordan Staal Part Deux. Or more?

Certainly coach Dan Bylsma has set the bar pretty high for the former 11th overall pick in the 2007 entry draft.

Sutter, the key element in the draft-day swap for Staal, scored 21 goals in his second NHL season with the Canes before dropping off to 14 and 17 the past two seasons.

But it sounds like Bylsma is going to fill Sutter’s plate with opportunity.

Sutter looks set to start the season in Staal’s former place, centering the third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy; Staal-Cooke-Kennedy was a trio that was extremely effective during the Penguins’ runs to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009.

Bylsma hasn't been able to rely on that trio the past two seasons given injuries at various times to Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and to Staal himself.

In general, Bylsma said, the third-line center has to be a hockey team’s seventh-best forward. Not Sutter.

“He’s going to be much higher than that,” Bylsma said prior to the team’s sold-out intrasquad game Wednesday night.

Killing penalties, taking important draws, filling in on the top two lines when Malkin and Crosby play together, logging power-play time. Gee, sounds a lot like how Staal was used.

Whether the comparisons are being drawn publicly or not, Sutter is a bright guy, and he understands the dynamic of coming in to replace one of the Penguins’ "Big Three" centers and a player generally regarded as one of the best two-way centers in the league.

It’s not something Sutter is afraid to confront.

“Obviously it’s kind of a different situation. When the trade happened, most people were calling it a hockey trade, so it was a benefit for both teams,” Sutter told ESPN.com after a standout performance in the Penguins’ intrasquad game Wednesday, the final tuneup before their season opener Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.

“Obviously, coming over here, coming into a place where Jordan was here for a long time and did a great job here and obviously has had a very successful career so far. For myself, I like to think I’ve had some success, but winning-wise, I don’t have the taste of that yet, so I’m still looking to get into that and hopefully once I do, I’ll more establish myself as a solid guy around here.

“As long as we’re winning, I’ll do kind of whatever they need me to do.”