The Saskatoon Blades centre — he's Rich Sutter's son, no need to consult the family tree — took advantage of having a third season of major junior hockey to get ready for the draft. After playing reduced minutes down the stretch in 2011 when the Blades were loaded with older players as part of a championship drive that ended with a thud in the second round against Kootenay, Lukas Sutter broke out with a 28-goal, 59-point, plus-15 season as an 18-year-old. As he tells it, being in an environment with older talents such as current Philadelphia Flyers centre Brayden Schenn in 2010-11 helped put him on the better path.
"Last year I was really fortunate that at the trade deadline, we brought in a guy like Brayden Schenn," says Sutter, who is listed at 5-foot-11 3/4 and 214 pounds. "Sure, my minutes were reduced but I got an opportunity to learn from the best player in junior hockey each and every day. I credit a lot of my success to him. The little things that we did after practice really helped me become the player."
"My knock throughout my career has always been my skating," he adds. "That's one thing I also tried to focus on this year. I came a long way with it."
Sutter is more about strength than style points, using his husky frame to take pucks to the net to create opportunities. The NHL's renewed emphasis on grit over skill — a setting in which his uncle, Darryl Sutter, is one win away from capturing the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings — could help his draft stock. It's not like Lukas Sutter gets a free pass on questions about work ethic because of his puck pedigree, but he's certainly realized he probably has to try double-hard to live up to a legacy that includes his dad, five uncles and two cousins who have made the NHL.
"It's in my blood," Sutter says. "It's not something I've ever been taught, I've a very competitive person off the ice. You want to be the best player you can be and the best person you can be every day. Those were the values I was raised on."
1. Playing in the WHL, is that Sutter name on your back almost like a target?
"I guess you could say so. Obviously it's a legacy in the game of hockey. I don't feel like it brings pressure or makes you a target. It is something my dad and my uncles and cousins have all done a good job of doing. It's something that pushes you to be better every day."
2. After going from 84th in NHL Central Scouting's midterm to 39th in North America in the final ranking, what are your expectations for the draft?
"You have to take it all in. You want to make the most of it. As the season wore on, I felt I grew as a player. The next month or so is going to be very exciting for me."
3. What's the anticipation like for you with the Blades hosting the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup?
"It's pretty exciting. You see how Shawinigan did [winning the tournament] and you see the whole scene with their city getting behind them. Obviously, you don't want to take a back door in. I think we'll have a team that can really challenge to win the Western Hockey League. Biggest focus we have is winning that Ed Chynoweth Cup.
"To some extent, you're playing for the guy beside you, but you also have to think of the guys who came before you, the Wendel Clarks and the Brent Ashtons, the guys who went to become good pro hockey players. They were guys who didn't get to do it and you want to do it for them. At the same time, you're doing it for the guy beside you.
4. Your cousin Brody Sutter (who signed the Carolina Hurricanes on June 1) was a regular opponent while he played for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, what were the battles like with him?
"It was pretty funny. Our lines matched up every single game so I played almost all my shifts against him. It was only four games [since the Blades and 'Canes are in different divisions], but there was that inner rivalry. We push each other, whether it's in the gym or on the ice and it really brought out the best in both of us."
5. Who were the toughest defencemen you faced this season in the WHL?
"You only play against those Western Conference guys once. So you get a guy like [Everett Silvertips captain] Ryan Murray, who's an unbelievable talent, or [the Portland Winterhawks'] Derrick Pouliot, who's an unbelievable skater, those are the two who really stick out in my mind.
"You kind of get into a comfort zone with someone like [Red Deer's Mathew] Dumba and [Alex] Petrovic because you play them so much that it becomes part of the process."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).
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