VANCOUVER — Brandon Sutter is going from the press box to centre stage for the Vancouver Canucks.
The 26-year-old will return to the lineup on Tuesday against the Nashville Predators after a 33-game absence due to a sports hernia.
With captain Henrik Sedin out until after the all-star break because of an upper-body injury, Sutter will slot in between Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen while also getting time on the first power-play unit.
“Jumping right into the fire,” Sutter said with a smile after Monday’s practice at Rogers Arena.
Sutter suffered the abdominal injury in mid-November, which he thought was initially just a tight groin, and waited about three weeks before going the surgical route.
“I was skating for 20 days trying to get it better, trying to avoid surgery, and it just felt like I was spinning my tires,” he said. “Once we got the surgery going it felt like you’re starting to see the light. Even though that was seven weeks ago, at least you’re working towards something.”
Sutter practised with the Canucks on their recent road trip and will help a club that’s currently thin on experience at centre with Henrik Sedin sidelined.
“We missed him,” said Vancouver head coach Willie Desjardins. “A lot of guys stepped in a played well while he was gone, especially the young guys, but for me it will be great to have him back.”
Sutter should also be a boost for the Canucks in the faceoff circle, where they’re rank last in the NHL, and on the penalty kill, where they sit 20th.
“He’s a big part of this team,” said Hansen. “We need a right-handed centre, no question about that. His speed, his tenacity, he’ll bring a lot.”
Vancouver acquired Sutter in a trade with Pittsburgh in June before signing him to a five-year deal worth US$21.875 million in August.
He had four goals and four assists in 16 games before the injury, and is eager to help a club after a long layoff that included four- or five-hour rehab sessions with trainers and a lot of time on the couch.
“I’ve got a lot of movies down, a few TV series,” Sutter said of how he spent his days. “A lot of football.”
The Canucks were in a rut when Sutter first got hurt, but have been playing better in recent months and are within shouting distance of a playoff spot at 20-18-11 with one more game before the all-star break.
“Fortunately the guys have done an awesome job,” said Sutter. “I’m not going to say it’s been fun watching them, but it’s been much better than it was … It just makes you antsy to get back out there and try and help.”