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Off the Top of My Head: Brandon Sutter’s comeback attempt, Dylan Holloway, and analytics

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Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
7 months ago
Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland told Brandon Sutter this summer that if this was five or six years ago, he’d be exactly what he’s looking for in a fourth-line centre. Here and now, Sutter’s far from a lock to grab the job, even though he might. 
Sutter, 34, has 770 NHL games on his resume, but he hasn’t played a single shift since May 1, 2021 — with the Vancouver Canucks — because he’s been out two years battling long Covid. A big, right-handed shot here on a PTO, Sutter could become the first member of Viking’s Sutter clan – Brandon is the son of Brent Sutter — to play in Oilers silks.
“The hardest part was figuring out for the longest time what was actually wrong,” Sutter said. “Once I got that kind of narrowed down, I was able to work through it. It just took a long time to get there,” says Sutter, who started feeling normal only in the past six or eight months.
“This summer I said: ‘In July I’m going to start skating like I normally would for a normal season.’ After about three or four weeks, I was pretty confident. Called my agent and said, ‘Start making some calls.’” 

WORTH A SHOT

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One of those calls was to Holland. Now, Sutter is taking his shot at the gig at pivot along with the likes of Lane Pederson and Brad Malone. No promises, no sure thing. Just an opportunity to put two difficult years in the rear-view mirror and get back into the fray.
From Holland: “I said, ‘Brandon, you’re 34 years of age. You haven’t played hockey for two years. You’ve had long Covid, and you don’t really know where your game is at. We don’t really know where your game is at, but if you’re anywhere close to where you were when you were 28 or 29, you’re exactly what we need.’
“We’ve got to watch him here over the next three weeks, and then we’ll make a decision, but if he’s anywhere close to where he was when he was in his prime, he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
Sutter has looked good early in camp and we’ll see more of him during pre-season, which starts at 4 p.m. this afternoon at Rogers Place against the Winnipeg Jets. It’s a compelling story even if it takes place further down the Oilers line-up and marquee than some others and is worth keeping an eye on.

BREAKOUT FOR HOLLOWAY?

Jan 7, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Dylan Holloway (55) protects the puck from Colorado Avalanche forward Darren Helm (43) during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
It was a couple of Monday Mailbag features ago when a reader asked ON writers to name their breakout player for this season. I had Dylan Holloway’s name circled then. I feel the same way now about the Oilers first-round draft pick, 14th overall, in 2020 with camp going full bore and pre-season games starting today.
Holloway, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, played 51 games with the Oilers last season, scoring 3-6-9. Sent to AHL Bakersfield with Vincent Desharnais to create enough cap room to activate Evander Kane from LTIR, he had his season ended by an injury. Tough break for a kid who also lost big a chunk of the 2021-22 season with a wrist injury and two subsequent surgeries to repair it.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a pressure, but it’s definitely something that is a goal and something that I want to do,” Holloway said of cracking a line-up many pundits think can contend for a Stanley Cup. “I want to step up and help the team as best I can, so I just have to work as hard as I can and learn from the older guys and try and help out.”
The former Wisconsin Badger is lighter and looks quicker than last season. Holloway is pencilled in on left wing on the third line, and while I don’t see room for him higher in the line-up than that, I look forward to seeing what he can do over a full season.

BY THE NUMBERS

If any business is serious about being successful, a big step in that direction involves hiring smart people at the top of their discipline and turning them loose to do what they do. That’s how I see the Oilers hiring of Michael Parkatti Thursday to lead their expanding analytics department. It’s a move that new CEO Jeff Jackson telegraphed not long after he came on board with the Oilers.
Add Parkatti to the likes of assistant GM Brad Holland and video coach Mike Fanelli as another piece in building a top-end analytics department. Better late than never.

WORTH REPEATING

“I still love coming to the rink, still love working hard at it, trying to get better. I’m going to keep going as long as I have that.” – Sam Gagner on his PTO bid with the Oilers after hip surgery at age 34.

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