Produced by the WHL in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multipart series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2018 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
If there’s a name that has become synonymous with Western Hockey League since its founding in 1966, it would easily be that of the Sutter family.
So, when it comes to Everett Silvertips forward Riley Sutter, he knows he’s the next in a long line of one of Canada’s most historic hockey families, but that hasn’t stopped the 6-foot-3, 205-pound product of Calgary, Alta. from making a name for himself.
Eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft, Riley is nearing the career checkpoint his father, uncles and cousins reached in previous years. Even with that added pressure, he’s taking each passing day in stride as he focuses on improving individually and putting the other 21 WHL clubs on notice that the Silvertips are contenders to be taken seriously.
“Growing up, I knew hockey was special to us,” Sutter said. “I didn’t really think it was super special, but obviously it was the favourite sport in our family.
“My parents were pretty flexible with letting me play different sports, but hockey was always my favourite. I fell in love with it at a very young age.”
The rite of passage may have seen Sutter play his junior hockey in Lethbridge, where so many of his relatives player before, but it ended up being the Silvertips selecting him in the sixth round, 125th overall, of the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft. That was fine by Sutter, who is the first of his family to play for a U.S.-based WHL club. As much as Sutter and the Silvertips have grown on Everett, the city has grown on him too.
He’s played in 135 WHL regular season games, tallying 74 points (38G-36A), including his first four-goal performance in an 11-0 win for the Silvertips Wednesday, December 27 against the Vancouver Giants.
While NHL scouts are taking notice and teams are eager to bring the Sutter success into their own franchise, Riley is surprisingly relaxed as the big day in June moves closer.
“I don’t think about it too much,” Sutter said of NHL teams following him because of his family bloodlines. “I can only do what’s within my hands; just do what I can handle and do whatever I can in my power to get drafted and do the best I can each day at the rink.”
The number of eyes focused on the young center are continually growing though, a trend that will continue when he participates in the 2018 Sherwin Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in early January 2018.
It hasn’t taken long for those around Sutter to recognize how special he is when he’s on the ice. First year Everett Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams shook off comparisons to any of Sutter’s family members, noting how composed the 18-year-old is.
“He brings a whole different dynamic of who he is and how he plays the game,” Williams said. “He thinks the game well, [he’s] strong on pucks. He has a great release.
“You can really tell he was expecting a lot for himself this year and the team and was putting in the effort and the work there in the summertime.”
Sutter’s development speaks volumes about what the Silvertips have done for their players and those in their surrounding community.
But despite his love for the game and the connection his family shares with the WHL, Sutter has been most surprised about the support behind the educational component, a piece of the junior hockey experience the Silvertips are big on.
“With my family that’s the main priority,” Sutter continued. “That was something I didn’t really know about it coming into it, but that’s something I’ve really learned over the past few years.
“I think it’s really interesting and it’s awesome how they apply that for the players playing in this league.”
School comes first, but hockey remains a close second on Sutter’s mind. While the rest of his family found their path to the NHL through teams like the Lethbridge Broncos and Red Deers Rebels among others, the Silvertips have paved part of the pathway for Riley as well.
Some of that has to do with Sutter’s old roommate on the road, Noah Juulsen, now with the Montreal Canadiens organization. Always one to give credit where credit is due, Sutter mentioned Juulsen as someone who has helped him begin to understand the rigours of succeeding in professional hockey.
“He’s been a role model for me every since I came [to Everett],” Sutter continued. “He’s still a very good friend of mine. I’ve always asked him questions about the next level.
“Just the way he handles himself around the media, the way he battled through some adversity this year with his injury and he’s come back strong so far. He’s a great player and an even better person.”
In Sutter’s world, the path to the professional hockey ranks is just beginning. He’s put in the work to get himself on the map of scouts and has given his all at both ends of the rink, a characteristic that has Williams excited for whatever team ends up drafting him.
“I definitely think what they’re going to get is a honest hockey player; a player that you can rely on in all facets off the game,” Williams said. “He’s just a complete warrior.
“There’s nothing phoney about his game. He brings it each and every night.”