Jake Virtanen sends a player flying in last January's World Junior gold medal game

Around the Seawall: Canucks sign Brandon Sutter; Virtanen torches Czechs in World Junior warmup

Vancouver inked their new 2nd-line center to a 5-year deal on Tuesday... Jake Virtanen scored two goals in a summer showdown with the Czechs

The Vancouver Canucks locked up a suddenly core member of their roster on Tuesday, formalizing a five-year, $21.875-million deal with Brandon Sutter.

The middle-of-the-depth chart centre – who spent last year playing behind the two-headed monster of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh – was brought over from the Penguins last week, in exchange for a second-round draft pick, Adam Clendening, and last year’s No. 2 centre Nick Bonino.

Brandon SutterThe money – $4.375 a year – is right where rumours had Sutter’s pay raise pegged, a hike over the $3.3 million he made with Pittsburgh. Sutter’s new deal kicks in after this season, the final of his current two-year deal, which ends at age 27.

“If the Canucks label Bo Horvat as the team’s No. 2 centre behind Henrik Sedin then Sutter could end up being one of the most expensive third-line centres in the NHL,” writes Sportsnet‘s Mike Johnston, in his breakdown of the deal on Tuesday. Horvat was the Canucks’ fourth-line centre last season, but excelled and surprised and evolved into an everyday, reliable NHL forward through the regular season and the playoffs.

Horvat and Sutter are expected to split time in the middle of Vancouver’s order next year behind Henrik, although today’s extension gives Sutter the contractual edge and the financial expectation.

In Johnston’s column, he lists other NHLers on comparable deals, including Toronto’s Tyler Bozak, Nashville’s Craig Smith, and New Jersey’s Adam Henrique.

Sutter has scored 21 goals twice in his career and was selected 11th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007. While his offence plateaued years ago with 40 points in 2010, the former Red Deer Rebel is known as a two-way specialist and is likely already the Canucks’ best penalty killer.

“Whatever you think of Sutter’s game, this is market value for top-end third-line centers, especially when you’re buying up prime years,” writes Sean Leahy for Puck Daddy., although he doesn’t endorse Vancouver’s new deal.

“(Sutter) never could live up the shutdown monster role that he assumed after being dealt for Jordan Staal at the 2012 NHL Draft. His offensive numbers were fine, but the possession stats weren’t, and his linemates did not benefit from his presence on the ice.”

Virtanen, Canada thump Czech Republic

Jake Virtanen made a name for himself, in spurts, at last January’s World Juniors.

He got some time playing alongside Connor McDavid and Curtis Lazar, he rolled over some Russians, and he showed enough speed and skill to keep himself in a prominent role in the roster. (Ignoring the second-period penalty he took in the gold medal game, which had him banished to the bench for the finale’s stretch drive.)

He wasn’t just an energy player or a depth player – he was, at times, a little bit of everything.

And he won gold.

So it’s back to the Canadian board for Vancouver’s first-round pick from 2014, and Virtanen started the climb at a spring – he scored two goals against the Czech Republic last night, in a 7-1 win with Canada’s World Junior hopeful team at the Summer Showcase on Tuesday.

Virtanen is a near-sure thing to make this year’s team again, not just as a returning junior but also as a WHL all-star with a goal-scorer’s resume and experience in last year’s AHL playoffs. Virtanen will also fight for a spot on the Vancouver Canucks this fall, after the team moved on from bottom six forward Shawn Matthias, Zack Kassian, and Brad Richardson.

So if he’s not on Team Canada this Christmas, it’s probably because he’s in the ‘Chel – not because he was cut.

*Another Canucks prospect, Jared McCann, was injured in Canada’s 4-1 win over Russia the night before, and will miss the rest of the tournament. Both McCann and Virtanen will be in Penticton in September for the NHL Young Stars Classic, and both may be in Helsinki for the World Juniors.

*Vancouver’s first-round pick this year, Brock Boeser, scored a hat trick for Team USA at the country’s Summer Camp in Lake Placid on Monday. The Americans defeated Sweden 10-4 and Boeser survived the team’s round of cuts, which shrunk the field from 39 hopefuls to 32. (See more of Boeser’s performance on HockeyBuzz.com)

VIDEO below of Virtanen’s goals and the hit on McCann, via @WinThaGame on Twitter:

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