Brandon Sutter‘s first season in Vancouver was a frustrating one. The 27-year-old center was limited to just 20 games due to injury, and the Canucks, lacking veteran depth down the middle, really missed him.
But Sutter is healthy now, and he’s not worried that many expect the Canucks to struggle once again in 2016-17.
“If people are picking us for the bottom, that’s perfect for us,” Sutter said, per The Province newspaper. “That’s great. Our expectations in the dressing room are very different.
“I think we’ve got a core group that looks at last season and thinks we’re very underrated coming into this year. You start with [Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin] and look down the list and there’s eight or 10 of us with experience who can play at a high level, and we’re all two-way players. Especially at forward, we’re all two-way guys.”
The Canucks added winger Loui Eriksson and defenseman Erik Gudbranson this offseason, though they did lose Dan Hamhuis. They also have a couple of wildcards in winger Anton Rodin and defenseman Philip Larsen, neither of whom were in the NHL last season.
“The tough thing for Brandon is he didn’t get to show what he could do,” head coach Willie Desjardins said in June.
“We’re looking forward to it this year. Everybody felt in our dressing room that if he’s there, then we’re in the playoffs this year. If he could’ve stayed healthy, then we had a real good chance of making the playoffs.”
It’s a debatable claim. Vancouver only went 7-6-6 when Sutter was in the lineup, and that doesn’t equal the playoffs over an 82-game schedule.
But every team needs a reason for optimism, and if the Canucks can stay relatively healthy next season, and if some of their wildcards pan out, they could at least be in the race down the stretch.