Fans of the Detroit Red Wings are most likely familiar with recent signee Pius Suter because of a game against his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Jan. 24 where he showed up in a big way:
The season prior, he was named the MVP of the Swiss League, so this kind of offensive explosion was exactly what Blackhawk fans were looking forward to. When you can shine while skating on the same line as forwards Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, that’s something worth noting. While he never replicated that offensive outburst the rest of the season, he was a constant candidate in the race for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league’s best rookie player (he finished 11th in voting.)
So then why did the Blackhawks refuse to extend the promising 25-year-old a qualifying offer, allowing him to enter free agency as an unrestricted free agent?
“It would be safe to assume that asking price was the issue with getting it done in Chicago,” said Shaun Filippelli, who covers the Blackhawks here at THW. “Yet, the Blackhawks strategy for replacing what he was bringing to the table doesn’t really clear up that confusion, as it would appear that acquiring Tyler Johnson was somehow linked to not re-signing Suter. Most expect the same type of impact, yet I’d much rather have a 24-year-old who is just getting his feet wet in this league, with lots left to prove.”
When asked if he foresaw the Blackhawks letting him go, Suter answered, “you get a feeling when you talk during the offseason. I didn’t think too much of it.”
Regardless of whether or not the move makes sense from a Blackhawks perspective, Suter is a Red Wing now, inking a two-year deal that carries a $3.25 million cap-hit. While one good season isn’t enough for me to confidently say that this player is the real deal, it appears that, based on league interest in this player, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman was able to reel in a good one.
“The interest was around,” Suter said. “That means I did something right during the last few years.”
What Suter Did Right
What Suter did over in Switzerland is worth celebrating, but the Red Wings are most likely betting on him repeating and improving upon what he did this past season with the Blackhawks. His 14 goals and 27 points in 55 games would have led all Detroit skaters last season, and his .49 points per-game (P/G) rate would have only finished behind fellow forwards Dylan Larkin and Robby Fabbri (and Jakub Vrana if you account for his 11 games late in the season.) That likely sets the benchmark for him entering a full 82-game 2021-22 season at 40-45 points. Raising those totals and improving on his pace from this past season will depend entirely on his ability to continue to develop and grow as a player.
“I try to score and grow as the team grows,” Suter provided as what he’s going to try to bring to the Red Wings. Looking a bit deeper at his numbers, they suggest that his game is already in a good spot. Any potential growth he may experience could move the needle in terms of whether we consider him a “good” or a “great” player.
Looking at his Corsi-For% (CF%) from this past season, Natural Stat Trick has him at a 47.1% at even-strength, which places him third among Blackhawks forwards with only a couple fourth line players ranking ahead of him. Yes, Suter was Chicago’s best top-nine forward last season in terms of possession and creating offensive chances (at least according to the numbers). While skating down the middle with Kane and DeBrincat on his wings, the trio posted a 49.3 CF%, and had a goals-for percentage (the share of goals scored while a player or players are on the ice) of 60.6%.
“Suter definitely found a nice fit between both Kane and DeBrincat for top-line minutes for a good stretch of the season,” Filippelli said. “Not only did that help him produce in his own right, but he looked far more comfortable in that role than most other rookies may have.”
While it might be an easy assumption that Suter experienced a bump in his “fancy stats” because he was playing alongside all-star talents, it is worth noting that Kane’s numbers with Suter (42 CF% over 143 minutes) were actually better than his numbers with DeBrincat (39.7 CF% over 221 minutes). The Blackhawks’ best player saw a noticeable bump in his possession stats when playing alongside the young Swiss forward – Detroit has to hope that this carries over next season.
Possession stats don’t mean much unless the puck goes in the net, however. While Suter’s point totals would have been the best on Detroit’s roster last season, let’s be honest: that’s not exactly setting the bar high. It’s easy to look at a player that scored a sliver under a .50 P/G and wonder how much they can really help the Red Wings’ anemic offense.
“Despite how streaky his production seemed, goal scoring seemed to come so naturally to him when he was on,” Filippelli said. “Even when he seemed to be slumping, it didn’t impact his drive and perseverance to get into the game. He always seemed like a threat. Get him the puck and you won’t regret it.”
Suter also finished this past season with 27 takeaways versus 19 giveaways; a player with a positive ratio in this regard not only helps create offense, but it helps on the defensive side of things. For a team like the Red Wings that places an emphasis on two-way play, this had to have been a consideration when Yzerman offered him a contract.
Fit with the Red Wings
A lot has been made of Suter’s connection to two other players on the Red Wings’ roster: Tyler Bertuzzi and the aforementioned Fabbri. Together, the three of them played for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. That time together was highlighted by a game where the three of them combined for 18 points in a 9-4 victory over the London Knights.
“It’s exciting. Always nice to know people around,” Suter said of having the opportunity to play with them again. He noted that the two of them did not have to reach out to sell him on joining the Red Wings.
After taking 625 faceoffs this past season, it is fair to assume that Detroit will give Suter a shot at laying claim to the team’s second line center position, potentially even alongside his former teammates from Guelph. That being said, it is worth noting that he only won 266 of those 625 faceoffs (a success rate of 42.6%); learning how to win faceoffs at the NHL level takes time, and this player is definitely still learning.
“That should be my goal and is my goal,” Suter said of becoming Detroit’s second line center.
Suter also spent some time last season on the wing, and he is sure to spend some time there again with the Red Wings this season. His ability to play both down the middle and on the wing gives Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill lineup options, and that’s going to be important as injuries and inconsistency inevitably plague Detroit this season. As for where he fits best, Filippelli offered this:
“It feels like his skill set is better suited for the wing. From where he seemed to be as a play would unfold, to having that offense-first mentality, I’d be curious to see what he could create with a full sample size of playing on the wing.” Filippelli also stated that Suter fits best as a middle six forward, and I think that will primarily be where he’ll fit in the Red Wings’ lineup next season. For what it’s worth, Suter said that the Red Wings had “not directly” mentioned whether they preferred him to play at center or on the wing.
His versatility as a forward goes beyond the positions he can play. While the best part of his game seems to be his scoring touch, it should be mentioned that Suter is not a one-note player. While he’s not defensive-specialist, Filippelli offered reassurance that Red Wings fans should not have to clench their jaws (and whatever else they might clench…) whenever he’s forced to play in his own zone.
“Suter never came across as a liability while he was out on the ice, but I wouldn’t necessarily align his two-way game with the likes of Jonathan Toews just yet. He had a knack for coming across as very clam and confident, during any part of the game or scenario, so that bodes well for his ability to progress in a more defensive manner.” While he reaffirmed his stance that Suter is more of an offensive player, he also stated, “I also wouldn’t worry about him while he’s out there for a defensive draw, for whatever it’s worth.”
This is especially important given that the Red Wings lost a pure defensive specialist in Luke Glendening when he signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Stars. Blashill and his staff are going to have to find other players to fill those tough defensive minutes, and while Suter likely won’t be the first player he turns to, the 25-year-old will be there as an option at even strength, and potentially even opportune moments on the penalty kill.
“Yes,” Filippelli answered when I asked if he would feel comfortable using Suter on the penalty kill. “And I might even look to get him out there if there’s a draw in the offensive zone.”
Yzerman Gets A Good One
Is Suter going to come in and dramatically change the Red Wings’ offensive game over night? No. Should he be able to come in and complement the forwards they have while offering the upside to become a better and more effective NHL player? Absolutely.
At $3.25 million, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Yzerman overpaid a bit for a player that has only played 55 games in the NHL. That price tag seems to be a big reason – if not THE reason – why the Blackhawks let him go. That being said, after watching the Red Wings plug their holes with veterans in the back-nine of their careers over the last few seasons (Valtteri Filppula, Bobby Ryan, etc.) it’s nice to see the team bet on a young player’s upside. If all goes well in the present, Suter could very well become a member of the Red Wings’ future.
In my opinion, rebuilds are all about finding long-term solutions. As the Red Wings look poised to start turning a corner in their rebuild, adding a player like this is the type of minimal-risk, potentially high-reward signing that can help push things along. The ingredients are all there for Suter to find success in Hockeytown.
Now he just has to go out there and make it happen.
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.