On Monday, the Montreal Canadiens announced that Nick Suzuki is the Molson Cup winner for February, another feather in the cap for the 20-year-old who is having a noteworthy rookie season.
The Molson Cup is awarded monthly by the Canadiens to the player who receives the most three-star selections at the end of each game during that month. The player who gets the most selections by season’s end is the winner of the Molson Cup for that season. In February, Suzuki was selected the first star of the game once, the second star on two occasions as well as a third star once.
Over the past month, Suzuki led his team in power-play goals and points (2 and 5). He also tied for second in points (10), tied for third in goals (4) and shots (35), and ranked fourth in assists (6).
Suzuki’s 13 goals and 27 assists in 68 games tie him for fourth in the NHL’s rookie scoring race. Without the stellar numbers put up by Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Elvis Merzlikins, Suzuki would be a lock for a Calder Trophy nomination, but the competition is stiff this season.
Praise from Carey Price and Phillip Danault
Suzuki’s strong play hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates, including Phillip Danault:
“He’s very consistent. He has 40 points so far this year. He has a good work ethic. For a 20-year-old, maturity isn’t always there at the start but in his case, he came here with a lot of maturity, both mentally and physically. “He’s been an important part of the power play for us this season,” Danault told the Montreal media on Monday. “He’s going to become more important in the coming years.”
Beyond the points, Suzuki’s solid 200-foot game and heady plays in a top-6 role, averaging 15:54 of ice time, has made everyone in the hockey world take notice. Habs goaltender Carey Price has been particularly impressed by the rookie’s intangibles:
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“He has all the right characteristics of a solid hockey player. He has the demeanor and the hockey IQ,” Price said of his rookie teammate. “He’s taken advantage of the opportunities that he’s been given this season. He’s been put in some very demanding spots and he’s responded well.”
Thriving as a Member of the Montreal Canadiens
It’s hard for any 20-year-old to make a breakthrough in the NHL, let alone in a storied market like Montreal, but Suzuki hasn’t let the extra scrutiny affect his play:
“I know there’s a lot of pressure, it’s a true honor to have that. I’ve just been trying to keep my head low and keep working hard,” Suzuki shared after learning of his Molson Cup win. “I don’t say too much in the room. I just try to learn from everyone; we have a bunch of great leaders here. I look up to Phil (Danault), I watch him every day, so I get to learn little things from him.”
Suzuki made the jump to the NHL straight from juniors which is no easy feat. He overcame a slow start in training camp to crack the Canadiens lineup and made his NHL debut on opening night. Since then, the native of London, Ontario has rarely missed a step and shown significant improvement in every facet of his game almost daily. He has also shown his durability; between the Ontario Hockey League, Memorial Cup, and the World Junior Championships, Suzuki played 92 games last season and has yet to miss a game with the Canadiens, seemingly unphased by the grind of the NHL.
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“I see a bit of fatigue in him, but that’s always the case in a first season. He recovers well because he’s intelligent,” Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said. “We always found that he’s had an incredible hockey sense, and he continues to show it.”
A Good Trade for Canadiens and Golden Knights
The trade made on the eve of training camp last season, that sent former captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and a 2019 second-round draft pick has worked out great for both teams.
Pacioretty and Tatar lead their squads in scoring this season, the Golden Knights are atop the Pacific Division and are ready for a deep playoff run, while Suzuki has enjoyed a standout rookie campaign with the Canadiens. Sixty-eight games into his tenure as a Hab, it’s easy to see why general manager Marc Bergevin wanted to acquire the talented forward.