Sutter hopes he can fit in very fast with Penguins


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New Penguins center Brandon Sutter forced established star center Sidney Crosby out of the way with the greatest of ease Wednesday.

Of course, this was in the Consol Energy Center locker room, not earlier in drills or a four-on-four scrimmage on the ice several yards away.

Sutter, in a stall next to Crosby, drew a crowd of reporters after the players' latest informal (no coaches) practice, leaving Crosby to go stand nearby until the media grilling Sutter thinned.

It won't be Crosby, but likely will be other teams' top players and lines who will find themselves matched against Sutter once the lockout-shortened season gets under way. And it won't be by circumstance in the locker room.

Sutter -- the key player coming back from Carolina in the Jordan Staal trade in June -- didn't elaborate on what he expects of his role with the Penguins. He didn't have to. It has been spelled out many times.

Like Staal, he is penciled into the third-line center spot. And, like Staal, he will be expected to flourish in a two-way role and kill penalties. But whereas Staal started bumping into a glass ceiling with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ahead of him on the depth chart at center, Sutter likely is more of a prototypical third-line center.

"I guess we'll know in a few days what to expect on opening night, and we'll go from there," Sutter said after arriving from western Canada and skating with his new teammates for the first time since September.

Opening night might actually be an afternoon date, Jan. 19 at Philadelphia. WPXI, the local NBC affiliate, reported on social media it will be a 3 p.m. game. The NHL won't release the lockout-shortened schedule until/unless the players ratify the new collective bargaining agreement in an electronic vote to be taken Friday and Saturday, Nhl commissioner Gary Bettman said.

Training camps then could open Sunday.

The league's board of governors unanimously ratified the CBA Wednesday in New York.

Sutter, 23, talked over the summer to Penguins winger James Neal, who told him how difficult it is to be traded in the season. Neal was acquired in February 2011, mid-stretch drive, and didn't gain traction, at least in terms of production, until last season when he played on Malkin's line and scored 40 goals.

It's a stark contrast for Sutter, who was part of a draft-day trade June 22 and is finishing what looks to be a wait of nearly seven months to debut with his new club, thanks to the lockout.

"It was a long wait, a lot longer than I expected," he said. "I'm definitely eager. I'm just looking forward to the first week or two of the season and really starting to feel like this is home."

In 286 games with the Hurricanes, Sutter had 53 goals, 107 points and a plus-minus rating of plus-21.

Sutter was one of three new faces at the informal practice. Defenseman Paul Martin spent the lockout in his native Minnesota, skating with up to 30 NHL players who either play for the Wild or are from the area. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, acquired in April, worked out with former Panthers teammates in Florida.

Sutter got in a few informal skates with his new teammates in September, when he traveled with several of them to New York for NHL Players' Association meetings just before the former CBA expired and the owners imposed the lockout.

He was not among the Penguins who stayed or spent a good deal of time in this area and skated four days a week at Southpointe during the lockout.

"I was back home skating with my old junior team," Sutter said of the Red Deer Rebels in Alberta. "I practiced with them every day, training. It was fun."

Two other NHL players, Curtis Glencross of Calgary and Kris Russell of St. Louis, also skated with the Rebels.

"It was nice to have some guys at your level," Sutter said, but they did not hold back on the ice with the younger players.

"It was beneficial for all of us," he said. "If we practice hard with the junior guys, it makes them better and it keeps us in shape."

Well, reasonably. Sutter found that returning to drills and scrimmaging with a group of all NHL players gearing up for training camp was a bit difficult.

"The first few drills I was really hurting," he said. "It's new. I've got new equipment on. It's new ice. It's just kind of an awkward feeling at first, but I'm starting to feel more comfortable."

On the calendar

The league's board of governors ratified the new CBA Wednesday. Players will vote on the new deal Friday and Saturday. If they approve it, training camps could open Sunday.

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter: @pgshelly. First Published January 10, 2013 5:00 AM


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