It is becoming harder and harder to see how the Montreal Canadiens could start this season without Nick Suzuki on the roster.
On Saturday night against the Senators, the Habs moved to 4-0 for their preseason, thanks to three power-play goals and a strong night from Keith Kinkaid. But, in my opinion, the most impressive player on the ice last night was Suzuki.
Skating on the wing, he picked up an assist on a Tomas Tatar goal, and he looked every bit of NHL ready in the process. His line was constantly dangerous, and he displayed a considerable amount of skill with the puck.
Nothing came of this particular play, but just take a look at this.
Suzuki executes a controlled zone entry, protecting the puck well. Once he crosses the line, the five closest bodies to him are all wearing the other colour jersey. He flips a no-look, back-hand saucer pass to Tatar that falls perfectly on the tape. This is an absolutely gorgeous play to me, and even though it didn’t lead to a goal, plays like this often can and will do so.
On this play, he was probably a quarter inch from finding Craig Anderson’s five-hole for a goal.
This play is probably a goal nine times out of ten in the NHL. It just so happened that Anderson didn’t move laterally as quickly as Suzuki expected him to, making for a smaller five-hole. You keep putting him in these situations, he will start perfecting that finish.
After the game, Philip Danault referred to him as “a little magician,” which seems pretty apt when you look at some of the things he’s been doing with the puck. He has NHL skill, there’s no denying that, and the biggest issue might be figuring out where Claude Julien can shoehorn him into the lineup.
Of course, you can’t read too much into lines being used in the preseason, but the fact that he was skating with established NHL players like Tatar and Danault is telling. I think they’re testing to see if he can fit into the top nine.
He looked good when they used him at centre, so Ryan Poehling’s concussion is ostensibly seen as an open door for Suzuki to jump in there. But, we know he can play the wing with success too, and since there isn’t a spot in the top nine at centre, he could find a home playing bigger minutes.
At centre, his only real option in Montreal is the fourth line. On the wing, there is the distinct possibility that he plays more minutes, and he seems to be ready to handle those type of minutes if this preseason is any indication.
There is nothing wrong with letting a young centre like Suzuki round out his game with a year in the AHL. With Joel Bouchard as Head Coach, it’s being viewed more and more as a good spot for the organization to put their young talent. But the big club needs to compete, and Suzuki has shown that he can help them do that, even if they play him on the wing.
I think he has earned a shot, so it seems that the real question is not if, but where Suzuki will make his debut with the Canadiens on October 3.