EVERETT — Riley Sutter has grown up with the attention.
You quickly become accustomed to it when you’re born into one of Canada’s most-famous hockey families. But the questions don’t seem to bother the Everett Silvertips’ 1999-born center.
“I think we’re kind of used to it,” Sutter said. “I don’t think it ever really started getting old. To us it’s just any other name. Obviously we have lots of family and our uncles and cousins have played, but we don’t want to let it get to our heads too much and honestly it’s pretty special.”
The game is in Sutter’s DNA. Born only one year before his father, Ron, retired from the NHL, Sutter has no memories of his father’s 19-year career, or the careers of his five uncles who also played at hockey’s highest level.
Riley became the 11th Sutter to play in the WHL across two generations when he debuted with Everett in 2015. Now in his third season, Sutter has carved his own career independent of his surname. He’s draft-eligible this season and is predicted to go in the top three rounds.
“You would never know (about his family),” Everett coach Dennis Williams said. “He’s just Riley. He’s Suttsy. That’s how we all look at him.”
A close family
A player’s draft year can be an intense and anxious time. With an October birthday, Sutter wasn’t eligible for last year’s draft, and had the extra year to develop. There are distractions aplenty, but Sutter has worked to keep them out of his mind.
“It’s hard at times, but I know there are other guys on the team that went through the same thing,” Sutter said. “I have a good friend group with the team, and coaches are very supportive through it all and also I have my dad and cousins to lean on and support. They’ve all gone through it. It’s kind of easy to keep my mind off it and keep it day-by-day at the rink.”
Sutter looks up to his cousin, Brandon, a center for the Vancouver Canucks. Despite being a decade younger, Riley Sutter is experiencing this season much of what Brandon went through 11 years ago.
Brandon played for his father, Brent, with the Red Deer Rebels from 2004-2008. He played in the 2007 CHL Top Prospects Game, while Riley took part in the 2018 edition of the showcase. Brandon went on to be drafted 11th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes and played both in Carolina and Pittsburgh before he was traded to the Canucks.
Cousins Brett and Brody have also spent time in the NHL.
The busyness of the family members’ respective schedules means that text messages are the main form of communication during the season. In fact, the Sutter cousins have a group text that they utilize weekly to stay connected despite the vast gap in ages and locations.
“It seems like lately it’s always been weddings that are the biggest reunions between the cousins,” Brandon said. “We usually get to see everybody once or twice a year. We’re all a little bit spread out, but it’s always fun when we’re together. It always feels like we never really missed a beat.”
Brandon remains close to Riley’s twin sisters Madisen and Reigan. The 23-year-old twins both live in Vancouver and sometimes babysit Brandon’s young daughter and dog.
“(It’s) pretty special how close everyone actually is, considering we have a pretty large family,” Riley said.
A tough break
The Silvertips took Sutter in the sixth round of the 2014 bantam draft from the Calgary Bisons bantam program.
He joined the Tips as a rookie for the 2015-16 season, but it didn’t go quite as planned. Sutter scored only one goal with three assists in 31 games before his season was cut short with a broken tibia in January of 2016. Sutter managed to return for Everett’s final two playoff games in the team’s second-round series loss to Seattle in April, but he did not record a point.
“It’s definitely the hardest time I went through,” Sutter said. “It was the longest period of time I’ve ever been out and it was definitely tough to stay positive when you’re out for that long. But my teammates were very supportive, and down at (Engineered Sports) Bob (Hamre) and Lance (Miller) were very supportive and they got me back as soon as possible. I feel like I got back even stronger when I started the year.”
Sutter developed into a bona fide NHL prospect in his second season. His goal total jumped from one to 20 while his points went from four to 39. Sutter has already set personal bests in goals (25) and points (52) with five regular-season games remaining this season.
“I see (improvement) even from the beginning of the year in the confidence, the pace of play,” Williams said. “You see him finishing more checks, getting involved in more piles. He’s obviously got a great stick net-front and he plays a lot of minutes for us because he’s responsible in all three zones, power play and penalty kill.”
Sutter is one of Everett’s biggest forwards at 6 feet, 3 inches and 205 pounds. He has continued to find success with linemates Connor Dewar and Garrett Pilon, two smaller, swift wingers who have each scored more than 30 times this season.
“They complement each other so well because what they lack is the size and that heaviness to be able to lean on guys, and that’s what Riley does a really good job of,” Williams said.
“He separates man from pucks really well and can get in there on the forecheck and knock a puck free, and then every time he goes right back to the front of the net,” Williams continued. “If you do that there’s a good chance one of those two other guys is going to funnel a puck that way.”
Rooming with ‘Hartsy’
Perhaps it is ironic that despite his famous last name, Sutter isn’t even the best-known prospect living with billet Parker Fowlds.
That would roommate Carter Hart, a signed Philadelphia Flyers goaltending prospect who has twice appeared in net for Team Canada at World Juniors including backstopping the team to the gold medal in January.
Hart and Sutter’s center ice post-game victory jump has become a staple celebration as they enter what is likely their final junior season together with Hart likely slated for the AHL next year.
“I think I’ve just grown as a person,” Sutter said. “That’s the biggest thing, and confidence as well. I’ve just gotten stronger overall and I feel like I still have lots of room for improvement. Obviously everyone does, but I feel like I’ve come a long way since I was 16.”
Sutter figures to hear his name called early on Day 2 of the NHL draft in June. When he does he will not only write another chapter in Silvertips history, but also pen one for his famous family.
“It’s just a fun family to be a part of, and I’m grateful to have the family I do,” he said.
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