Nick Suzuki led the way for the Montreal Canadiens in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, proving time and time again that he can step up and handle even the toughest assignments. At only 22, there is still a lot for this young center to learn, but he’s displayed all the skills and potential necessary to be a No. 1 center in Montreal for years to come – showing why Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin needs to lock him down immediately for the long haul.
Suzuki Was the Centerpiece of the Pacioretty Trade
When Bergevin traded star winger Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights, his main target return was Suzuki. Bergevin wanted a young player to become the No. 1 center of the future and help the Canadiens reset. As a young player, Suzuki always wanted to play like the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron, a solid two-way center with high scoring ability – Suzuki even wore No. 37 when he played for Owen Sound Attack in his junior years – and the Canadiens needed a top two-way center to lead the team into the future.
Bergevin wanted a top prospect, a draft pick, and a roster player in return for Pacioretty. The Golden Knights answered the call, and the Canadiens received Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and a second-round pick in the 2019 draft, which was later traded to the Los Angeles Kings for third and fifth-round picks (Mattias Norlinder and Jacob LeGuerrier, respectively) in 2019. Bergevin wanted what he calls an “A” prospect and knew he would get one in Suzuki.
Suzuki Is the Real Deal
When Nick Suzuki first arrived in Montreal, there were no expectations as the 13th overall pick in the 2017 draft was not initially seen as the main focus of the trade, but rather a bonus to Tatar. Tatar stole some of the limelight away from Suzuki due to his tremendous first season with the Canadiens, where he scored 25 goals and 58 points to finish second in team scoring in 2018-19. Meanwhile, Suzuki played in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), splitting his time with the Owen Sound Attack and the Guelph Storm.
In his final season in the OHL, Suzuki had 32 goals and 94 points, along with three points in five games for Canada in the World Junior Hockey Championships (WJC). What the Canadiens liked most about Suzuki was his willingness to learn from his mistakes and commitment to improving at every aspect of his game. He is an excellent multi-dimensional threat who can pass just as well as he can shoot, and was voted the OHL’s best playmaker in 2017-18.
Suzuki’s great play carried over into the NHL. He made the Canadiens roster in the 2019-20 season, where he started as the fourth-line center but quickly moved up to second-line duties. By December, Suzuki was playing the role of second-line center and earned the trust of his head coach – he scored 28 points in his final 45 games and ended the season with 41 points in 71 games, earning himself a place on the NHL All-Rookie Team. He followed his rookie season with an even better sophomore season, scoring 41 points in 56 games – which would amount to 60 points in a regular 82-game schedule – and earning the spot as the Canadiens’ No. 1 center.
Suzuki Thrives in the Playoffs
Suzuki really shows his talent when the games mean the most. In the 2019-20 season, the Canadiens were one of the 24 teams eligible to play in the NHL’s post-season. Due to COVID-19, the NHL had to be paused, and when it restarted, the league decided to allow 24 teams in the post-season, with all but the top two teams in each division competing in a play-in round to see who would make the 16-team playoffs. The Canadiens upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in round and played the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs, losing that series in six games.
Suzuki was an integral part of the victory over the Penguins and had strong series against the Flyers. Playing as the first-line center, Suzuki led the team with 7 points in 10 games, including 4 goals. This season once again, Suzuki emerged as a team leader in the playoffs. In the Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, Suzuki scored 16 points in 22 games, leading his team in both categories. At just 21, Suzuki proved to everyone that he is the real deal and can step up when he is needed the most.
Suzuki Needs to Be Signed Long Term
Suzuki is quickly becoming the Canadiens’ best center – he’s improving every season and has a solid two-way game. He was a key figure all season on the power play (PP), and as this season’s playoffs showed, he’s become quite adept at killing penalties as well. Suzuki has displayed everything he needs to prove he is a star talent: excellent passing, solid shot, elite hockey IQ, and success on special teams. This is all on top of the great chemistry he has with the Canadiens’ top prospect and potential superstar, Cole Caufield. These two could be the high-scoring duo the Canadiens have been seeking for decades.
Suzuki becomes a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of next season, but Bergevin can sign him to an extension when the free-agent market opens this summer. The Canadiens absolutely need to sign Suzuki long-term as early as possible and get him locked in for the next eight seasons. Suzuki has proven in his brief career that he is the go-to guy at the center position and will be the top guy for years to come. Bergevin already has Josh Anderson, Brendan Gallagher, and Jeff Petry signed long term – he now needs to sign his top center and ensure that this core is here to stay.
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The Canadiens have over $22 million in cap space for the 2022-23 season, but that will change depending on what moves and signings Bergevin makes this offseason. I won’t assume what the cap space will be at the end of next season, but there should be enough to sign Suzuki to an acceptable contract for both the player and the organization. Either way, Suzuki looks more like the key piece to this team every time he hits the ice, and Bergevin needs to make him a Canadien for a long time.