Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning identified speed and toughness as two areas the club needed to address this off-season. He’s confident Brandon Sutter and Brandon Prust fit the bill.
The Canucks acquired the forwards in separate July trades in hopes they will help in the continued process of retooling the franchise on the fly while also altering the locker-room culture.
“These guys are competitive guys and they’re sore losers,” Benning said earlier this week. “They don’t like losing, so as we transition these young players into our lineup going forward they’re going to watch the Prusts and the Sutters and it’s going to be good to learn from them.”
Vancouver returned to the playoffs last season, finishing second in the Pacific Division with 101 points before suffering a six-game defeat at the hands of the Calgary Flames in the first round.
A lot was made of Calgary’s physicality in the series and Benning said he’s much more comfortable with his roster heading into 2015-16.
“I think we’re going to be able to get in on the forecheck,” he said. “Last year when I watched our team, I felt like we were a little bit in between. We weren’t fast enough to get in on the forecheck and we didn’t spend enough time in the other team’s end.”
After the deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins that sent Nick Bonino the other way, Sutter signed a five-year extension with the Canucks and is likely to fill the No. 2 centre spot behind Henrik Sedin.
Vancouver opened training camp in Prince George, B.C., on Friday, but Sutter — who had 21 goals and 12 assists in 80 games in a third-line role last season — made an impression on his new teammates during informal scrimmages earlier this month.
“He’s a good, powerful skater, got good mitts on him … reminds me a little bit of a young Ryan Kesler in some ways,” said winger Alexandre Burrows. “It should be exciting to see him play and grow in his role and be one of our leaders.”
Traded twice already in his career, Sutter is excited to know he’s going to be in one city for a while.
“If you look at certain teams that you’re rumoured to get traded to … the fit here was almost perfect,” said Sutter, the most recent member of the famous Sutter family to play in the NHL. “I just wanted to be somewhere for a while. It’s fun coming back to Western Canada and playing in a pretty fun city. I’m just looking forward to it all.”
The 31-year-old Prust arrived in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for Zack Kassian and will be looked to for toughness in a checking role that should see him play alongside fellow winger Derek Dorsett, who shouldered most of the physical burden last season.
“They don’t want me to change my game in any way, just keep doing the things that I’ve been doing,” said Prust, who is entering the final year of his contract. “They got me for a reason. (To) be a leader, lead by example, bring energy to this team, bring a little grit, a little sandpaper and keep doing everything I can to help us win hockey games.”
With the additions of Sutter and Prust, an increased role for Bo Horvat and the possible emergence of Sven Baertschi and Jake Virtanen — among other youngsters — up front, the Canucks are confident they can equal and even surpass last season’s bounce-back campaign.
“We analyzed how we can be better going into this season,” said Benning. “One of the things we talked about is we want to be faster and a harder team to play against. We set about to accomplish that.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press