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Sutter looking to rebound

Faces another year of junior following poor season

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PENTICTON, B.C. -- The door would now appear to be open to go back for another year of junior hockey.

Lukas Sutter's job now, he says, is to slam that door shut.

The 19-year-old forward, who turns 20 on Oct. 4, was chosen by the Winnipeg Jets in the second round of the 2012 draft, under the well-known theme of Sutter family, character and grit and all the rest of it.

Only it didn't quite turn out that way in the early days of this relationship.

Sutter simply didn't measure up during the 2012-13 season with the Saskatoon Blades and Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff over the weekend raised the return-to-junior scenario in conversation about the coming weeks.

"There are lots of options with Lukas," Cheveldayoff said, not committing to anything just yet, including a contract for Sutter. "Generally speaking, when you draft a player out of junior, you have two years of development.

"With Lukas's age, he has several different options available to him. Because he's a late birthday draft pick, we have the opportunity to turn him pro if we choose to, but he also has the opportunity to go back to junior. It's really not different than any junior player. A two-year development cycle is not uncommon before you turn them pro.

"There's an opportunity there, but there's also an opportunity to turn him pro. We'll see how the whole camp process goes and make our determinations from there."

If that doesn't spell out how important the weekend's Vancouver Canucks Young Stars Classic tournament and the coming Jets' training camp are to Sutter, nothing does.

The tournament isn't off to a bad start for Sutter, who's been on a line with Mark Scheifele and Scott Kosmachuk. He's been involved through the Jets' victories in the first two games, and hopes to be again today when their tournament wraps up with a 1:30 p.m. CT start against the Canucks rookies.

"It's been fun, to play with a guy like Scheifs," Sutter said. "He's an extreme talent and the way that he moves the puck, it's pretty special. And Kos has been lights out in this tournament. He can shoot the puck pretty well. You don't see a shot like that too often. He gets it off pretty quick.

"Me, with those two guys, I know my role and that's to get the puck deep and bang and try to get the puck back to them. It's pretty easy to play that game with those two guys."

But back to the main subject, the coming fork in the road.

Sutter has played three full WHL seasons. He doesn't relish a fourth.

"I want to earn a spot in pro hockey," he said. "I don't want to go back and play junior. Obviously going back to junior isn't the worst thing that can happen to me, but my goal is to play pro hockey. Any young hockey player's goal is to play at the highest level possible and that's pro hockey for me. That goal does not change.

"My job here is to make Chevy and Zinger (assistant GM Craig Heisinger) realize that I'm ready for pro and that's something I'm trying to do day in and day out. It's not just the games, it's the off-ice, how I carry myself and handle myself.

"That's something I'm really trying to prove them and to myself."

Part of that was doing something about his poor 2012-13, when his production dropped from 28 goals and 59 points ahead of being drafted to just 13 goals and 24 points last season.

"There are no excuses for the start that I had," Sutter said, explaining it led to his playing time and offensive situations being reduced. "It was a learning curve for me. I learned a lot about myself as a player and as a person. It was a tough mental road for me but I grew a lot as an individual and I think I've come a long way."

That includes his summer commitment to training, attending Gary Roberts' fitness program.

"The biggest thing for me was my skating and my conditioning," Sutter said. "The one thing I found was that my explosiveness has come a long way, my skating has come a long way. I'm still proving myself on a consistent basis but this early in the year to feel the way I do, I'm really happy with it and the training speaks for itself when you feel the results."

In time, he hopes.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 9, 2013 C4

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