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Brent Sutter’s nephew was a fan of the Red Deer Rebels long before he was dealt to the team in June from the Saskatoon Blades.
“To get an opportunity to come and play for a team I grew up dreaming about is something that’s very special and the prospect of that is exciting for me,” 20-year-old forward Lukas Sutter said Tuesday, following a morning scrimmage that kicked off the second day of main training camp at the Centrium.
Lukas, the son of former NHL player Rich Sutter, grew up in Lethbridge and was selected by the Blades in the second round of the 2008 Western Hockey League bantam draft. He played seven games with Saskatoon the following year and joined the club full-time for the 2010-11 season and contributed four goals and 19 points.
The rugged winger enjoyed a breakout season in 2011-12 — sniping 28 goals and collecting 59 points — and was subsequently picked by the Winnipeg Jets in the second round of the NHL entry draft. But the 2012-13 campaign was another matter, as Sutter’s offensive output slipped to 13 goals and 24 points.
His struggles mirrored those of the eventual Memorial Cup host Blades in general, as the club was up and down all season and was then swept by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round of the playoffs. Sutter was somewhat of a bright spot for the Blades in their four playoff outings, scoring twice, but he realized he had to improve his conditioning in order to play at the next level.
The Blades, left with a large group of 20-year-olds following their unsuccessful attempt to win the Memorial Cup, dealt Sutter to Red Deer in exchange for defenceman Kevin Pochuk and the Rebels’ third- and seventh-round selections in the 2014 bantam draft.
Sutter then headed to Toronto to work out at the High Performance Centre operated by former NHL forward Gary Roberts.
“There was a lot of question marks regarding my skating and my conditioning and that’s something I really learned a lot about this summer,” said Sutter, who played at 216 pounds last winter and now carries 208 pounds on his six-foot-one frame.
“You get into an atmosphere like that with the players that are there . . . every day you’re in the gym with guys like Steven Stamkos and Stephen Weiss. They provide a very good example for you as to what it takes to play pro hockey. They are guys who are established in the NHL and they’re in the gym every day pushing themselves to the limit.
“Those are guys you look to to kind of model your game after in terms of how they carry themselves off the ice. They’re true professionals and that’s something I learned a lot about.”
Sutter will attend the Jets camp next week and naturally would prefer to play for pay this winter, even at the AHL level with Winnipeg’s top farm team — the St. John’s IceCaps. However, a return to the Rebels for one last season of major junior seasoning wouldn’t be a disappointment.
“For any young hockey player — you talk to Matt (Rebels defenceman Dumba) or Patrik (Bartosak) — their goal is to play pro,” said Sutter. “It’s the same for me, but at the same time to come back to an organization like Red Deer would be a blessing. The opportunity for me to be successful here is very large and if it presents itself it’s an opportunity I’m going to take full advantage of.”
Sutter knows full well that he’ll set himself up for a pro contract offer from the Jets in the event that he rebounds to his 2011-12 form.
“You want to jump to pro hockey as quickly as you can, but any chance that I can get to develop I’m going to take advantage of that and whether that’s in St. John’s or back here in Red Deer, I’m going to do the best that I can to develop to my full potential,” he said.
While Brent Sutter will be expecting his nephew to be a major offensive contributor this season, he swung the deal with the Blades to add some grit and toughness to his forward ranks. In 220 regular-season games with the Blades, Lukas Sutter racked up 520 minutes in penalties.
Sutter was an alternate captain with Saskatoon last winter and sees himself taking on a leadership role in Red Deer.
“That’s one of my natural abilities. It comes with the territory,” he said. “You don’t want to come in and step on any toes, but come in here with the attitude that this is a team that has to be successful. I’m going to do everything I can to help that. The leadership core here is in place and anything I can do to help in that respect is something that I want to do.”
Sutter saw enough of the Rebels as an opposing player to conclude that Red Deer should enjoy success in the upcoming season. In fact, he’s shooting for both the moon and the stars.
“Obviously, this is a very good team,” he insisted. “You look at the top six guys, even the top nine forwards . . . they’re very talented. Guys like (Rhyse) Dieno, (Brooks) Maxwell, (Matt) Bellerive and (Dominik) Volek, they’re all very talented players. Plus, a guy like (Conner) Bleackley has a ton of upside and just so much room to grow.
“You look on the back end and see (Devan) Fafard, (Kayle) Doetzel, (Mathew) Dumba and (Brady) Gaudet . . . it’s a scary-looking lineup. You add Patty (Bartosak), the best goalie in the CHL, and this is a lineup that’s made to win a championship. And if I come back here, that will be my goal. You want to go out on a high in your last year of junior and I think anything less than a Memorial Cup would be a disappointment for this group.”