Canadiens’ Expectations of Nick Suzuki

Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki has had a bit of a rollercoaster ride in his first three weeks as an NHL player. After a dominant preseason, he had a steep learning curve in his first couple of regular season NHL games. Since then, he seems to have found his game and has been elevated to the second line, paired with Max Domi, ahead of Thursday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks.

Suzuki was drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Draft. In his final Ontario Hockey League season in 2018-19, Suzuki put up tremendous numbers (34 goals, 60 assists in 59 games played), leading his team to a birth in the Memorial Cup.

Related: Nick Suzuki – Draft Profile

Just prior to the 2018-19 season, Suzuki was traded from the Golden Knights to the Canadiens in a package that included Tomas Tatar and a second-round draft pick in exchange for Max Pacioretty. Suzuki was the centerpiece to that trade for Montreal. He immediately joined Jesperi Koktaniemi and Ryan Poehling as future stalwarts in general manager Marc Bergevin’s retooling plan.

The big question is what can we expect from Suzuki, both now and in the future? Mitch Marner is probably the name most used as a comparable player. Both players had dominant OHL careers, both players play center and right wing, and both players were first-round picks. There are a lot of similarities in their games as well.

I would argue that Marner’s skating and edge work is amongst the elite in the game and he possesses a first step that Suzuki does not. Both players have high hockey IQ and are gifted playmakers and also natural goal scorers. But is it too much to expect Suzuki to eventually produce at the level Marner has for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The modern style of the pro game is all about speed and skill. Suzuki is loaded with skill, and his offseason work with his skating coach Barb Underhill has paid off as well. The modern game is setup for players like Suzuki to excel.

What Position Should Suzuki Play?

Suzuki faces the same question Marner did out as he transitioned from the OHL to NHL, is he a center or a wing? Thus far, at the NHL level, he’s been playing most right wing, rotating between the second and fourth lines for the Canadiens. However, the possibility of Suzuki playing center is also high. (from “Nick Suzuki could end up playing centre or wing with Canadiens,” Montreal Gazette, 9/6/2019)

The Canadiens are absolutely loaded at the center position. Gone are the days of trying to stick round pegs into square holes. Domi put up 72 points in his first year at center, and Philip Danault may be the most underrated two-way center in the NHL. Furthermore, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Poehling look to be top two centers in the long run as well.

Montreal Canadiens' Nick Suzuki
Montreal Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Here is where Suzuki’s versatility is a great benefit to the Canadiens. In his OHL career, Suzuki was almost equally productive when playing wing as he was at center. This makes him an even more valuable asset for the Canadiens. Currently, the Canadiens find themselves with cupboard full of NHL-caliber centers, but in short supply of scoring wingers at the NHL level.

The position that Suzuki will fill on the Canadiens’ roster is dependent on how their top prospects develop. Suzuki could easily form a dynamite 1-2-3 punch at center with Kotkaniemi and Poehling. In contrast, he could just as easily join the ranks of Brendan Gallagher, Cole Caufield and Jesse Ylönen as a part of a dynamic group of scoring wingers for the Canadiens.

What’s clear is, wherever Suzuki lines up, he’s going to be a valuable piece of the present and future for the Canadiens. He’s starting to produce already and his play has improved in every game so far at the NHL level. Whether he can eventually produce and perform at the level of Marner is a question for another day. However, it’s obvious that Suzuki is on his way to becoming an impact player for the Canadiens.