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Frozen Frames: How Nick Suzuki’s hockey sense drives offence

Being in the right spot at the right time, while also possessing some high-end abilities, is how Suzuki creates for himself and others.

Canada v Denmark - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Expectations are high for Nick Suzuki in the World Junior Hockey Championship. He is a first-rounder whose skills have been hyped up since he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in the Max Pacioretty trade. Currently having a dominant season in Owen Sound, it was also expected that would produce for the National Team and become a key element in their formation.

Suzuki has three points through four games. His numbers could be higher considering the scoring fests that Team Canada has been part of, recording a total of 23 goals total since the start of the tournament. But the fact that the Habs prospect doesn’t get prime opportunities, like a chance on the first power-play unit or top-line minutes — make those totals still respectable.

In terms of on-ice play, Suzuki has definitely been one of Canada’s top forwards. He isn’t as noticeable as Owen Tippett, who combines one-handed dangles with figure skating moves, or Maxime Comtois, who seems to find the back of the net with every shot on goal, but prospects aren’t strictly evaluated by their number of flashy plays per 60 minutes. Suzuki remains a constant threat every time he leaps over the boards.

Teammates are praising his hockey sense. And for good reason. His ability to read the game and create offence with timely support, forechecking or defensive pressure, and his skill with the puck on his stick stands out among his peers, even surrounded by some of the best players the country has to offer.

Not every play he orchestrates has been converted on, but the fact that Suzuki manages to create chances consistently and in a variety of manners at the Tournament is a good sign going forward. Lots of little things the forward does will translate very well to the NHL.

Suzuki can distributes the puck quickly and do so intelligently, but also knows when to delay his play to wait for better opportunities. When he doesn’t have possession, he is always a pass option for teammates, taking the best routes possible to present his stick as a target.

His play along the boards has been impressive in this tournament. Even if he doesn’t have the stature of the defenders he faces, Suzuki moves them around and creates room for himself to escape and make plays. In his defensive game, he has shown an ability to break opposing plays at their inception, forcing turnovers and extending his team’s presence in the offensive zone.

He is a complete forward for Team Canada. His effort level has been called out in certain spheres, but there is not as much need to hustle around when he is already in a good position to affect the play, having anticipated it ahead of time.

The following is a breakdown of some great offensive sequences from Suzuki at the World Juniors. For stretches, he doesn’t have possession, or barely comes in contact with the puck for more than a second, but the plays he makes are still great examples of the prospect’s ability to create offence away from the puck. That is extremely important, considering most players have possession for less than a minute over a full game in the NHL.