Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron is considered one of the best two-way centres of all time and has consistently been one of the league’s great leaders. After 11 years as the Bruins’ alternate captain, he had the “C” sewn onto his sweater on Jan. 7, 2021, and became the 20th captain in franchise history. It’s a good sign for any player whose name is mentioned in the same conversation as Bergeron. Young Montréal Canadiens centre Nick Suzuki is one such player. Suzuki had a breakout season in 2020-21, shining in the Habs’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s almost as if he was created in a lab in an attempt to clone Bergeron.
Canadiens Have Finally Found Their Number One Centre
The Canadiens have been searching for a bona fide number one centre for ages. In 2018, SBNation’s Nathan Ni of Habs Eyes on the Prize emphasized just how long the Canadiens had gone without a top centre. Names like Saku Koivu, Vincent Damphousse, and Pierre Turgeon are revered in Habs circles as if they were gods, but since Koivu’s departure in 2009 until Suzuki’s, the Canadiens have lacked the type of centre that has made other teams thrive. Many teams had what the Canadiens didn’t. Names like John Tavares, Connor McDavid, and Steven Stamkos have given Habs’ fans fits as the Canadiens tried to find a top-line centre of their own.
Patrice Bergeron has been the Bruins’ number one centre since Joe Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks in 2005. For 16 years, he has been matched up against the opposition’s best players and has consistently shut them down. He was rewarded again with a tenth consecutive nomination for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward this season, and although he lost to the Florida Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov, his continued recognition is a testament to his ability and legacy, and the comparisons put Suzuki in elite company.
Suzuki’s Leadership Skill Is on Par with Bergeron’s
Even before he was drafted 13th overall in 2017 by the Vegas Golden Knights, Suzuki was being compared to Bergeron. Although Owen Sound Attack head coach Ryan McGill never used Bergeron’s name specifically to describe him, all the superlatives used to describe the Bruins’ captain have also been used to describe the Canadiens’ young star.
“He’s definitely underselling himself when he tells you he’s more of a playmaker because he’s an all-around player, a 200-foot guy who kills penalties, takes faceoffs, and on top of that is the smartest player on the ice.”– Owen Sound Attack head coach Ryan McGill on the play of Nick Suzuki during his OHL career.
McGill’s words are still true and mean the kid is good. Really good. Canadiens’ assistant coach Luke Richardson describes him as a “quiet leader” who won’t be flashy or vocal but will demonstrate leadership through his play. Brendan Gallagher specifically mentioned how Suzuki took charge when many of the Habs’ key players were stricken with injuries this season.
“You look at our regular season at the end of the year, we were going through a tough time. You needed someone to step up and take charge, and it was him. Last year in the playoffs, same thing. He’s a guy who steps up, scores big goals. It’s something he’s done as long as he’s been playing hockey, something not everyone has.”– Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher on teammate Nick Suzuki.
Bergeron continues to receive praise and respect from the league’s best players. His teammates, current and former, and even opponents have expressed admiration for his playing style and leadership skills. Bergeron’s Olympic teammate Sidney Crosby referred to Bergeron’s attitude, saying:
“What makes him a special player on and off the ice is that he’s someone who comes in every day with the right attitude. He’s a great teammate, willing to do whatever it takes and be a good teammate and be there for guys. Just a great example on and off the ice for everybody.”Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby on the leadership ability of his Team Canada colleague Patrice Bergeron.
Bergeron and Suzuki Have Made Their Names in Playoffs
Suzuki has only experienced the NHL playoffs twice, but in both, he was a key contributor to the team’s success and was a major part of why they made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2021. His presence was so widely felt that those who cover the Vegas Golden Knights gazed longingly at his play in the semifinals as a reminder of what they gave up in the Max Pacioretty deal.
Against the Golden Knights, Suzuki registered five points in five games, and seven goals and nine assists in 22 playoff games overall. In 2021, he had a 44.0 face-off percentage (FO%). In the 2020 play-in round, he was even better with a 45.73 FO%. In ten playoff games in the bubble, he scored three goals and seven assists. Although it’s a limited sample size, Suzuki’s stats compare well with Bergeron’s. Bergeron’s career FO% is an incredible 57.07. Considering he and Suzuki began their careers with similar numbers – Suzuki’s FO% is only six points below Bergeron’s first-year percentage – it could be a strong prediction of where Suzuki’s career is headed.
Suzuki’s teammate Jonathan Drouin compared him directly to Bergeron before the 2021 season began, hyping up the connection even more.
Bergeron is clearly the more established playoff presence, with 160 career playoff games. Over that span, he has scored 46 goals and 74 assists for 120 points. His biggest playoff moment came in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final when he scored the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks to secure the Bruins’ first championship since 1972. In that same playoffs, he dominated the dot with a 60.2 FO%.
Given how many in the hockey community and in the Canadiens’ organization – whether it be coaches or players – have praised Suzuki in much the same way others have praised Bergeron, it seems the youngster is already in elite company, even though he’s only coming off his sophomore season. There’s a very high ceiling for Suzuki, and he’s got both the time and the skills to reach it.
Covering the Montréal Canadiens and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.