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After hitting the proverbial wall, Nick Suzuki will be rejuvenated for the play-ins

The rookie has been off the ice for three months, the longest period of rest he’s had in his time with the Canadiens.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

The biggest piece in a surprisingly strong return for Max Pacioretty, Nick Suzuki immediately became one of the top prospects in the Montreal Canadiens organization on September 10, 2018. Picked 13th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, he had just put together a 100-point campaign in the OHL before the Vegas Golden Knights decided to focus more on their present Stanley Cup chances than their future.

A first season under the Canadiens umbrella that was slightly less productive than his previous one caused some concern, but an explosion in the playoffs not only erased those doubts, but proved he was ready to challenge for an NHL spot.

Sure enough, with an incredible progression in training camp (capped off with an overtime-winner in the final pre-season game), he was named to the opening-night roster. That rapid evolution continued throughout the season, reflected in a general upward trend in his production.

EV GPG: even-strength goals per game; EV APG: even-strength assists per game; PP GPG: power-play goals per game; PP APG: power-play assists per game

He enjoyed the most success in early February, not long after Ilya Kovalchuk was integrated into the team (though the two only shared a scoreline on four goals in Kovalchuk’s time in Montreal). The 10-game stretch from January 30 to February 15 was his best in terms of both five-on-five offence and power-play production, hitting the point-per-game mark during the span. It helped earn him an honourable mention in our naming of February’s player of the month.

He may have claimed that title himself had his offence carried through the second half of the month, but his effectiveness quickly tapered off. After a two-point night on February 18, he only registered one assist in the final nine games, and was obviously slowing down on the ice. He, like the team he played for, was resigned to just going through the motions with 11 games left on the calendar.

Given how much time he’d spent at various hockey events over the previous year, it’s understandable that he would begin to run out of gas in his first full NHL season. After joining the Habs in the summer of 2018, he played a full season in the OHL, being traded to a new club partway through, while also squeezing in a World Junior Championship in the middle of it all. His Guelph Storm played four playoff games less than the maximum 28 on their way to an OHL championship, then Suzuki gave the team a chance to claim the Memorial Cup with seven points in four games of the tournament that crowns a CHL champion in late May.

With his Junior career at an end, it was then on to the Canadiens’ week-long development camp in July, his first with the team after two with Las Vegas. He rejoined those peers in September for the Rookie Showcase in Belleville, being one of the most-used players on the team’s top line, before going directly into training camp and playing a team-high five games as the coaching staff evaluated his NHL readiness. Passing that test, he dressed for all 71 games before the season was halted after the game on March 10.

Since the announcement that the NHL season was being “paused,” Suzuki has been off the ice for over three months. It’s the most rest he’s had in his time with the team. The most since he went through the 2017 scouting combine to begin the process of becoming an NHL prospect.

With Montreal getting an unexpected shot at post-season play in the new 24-team format, if the season actually resumes we will get to see Suzuki playing with the confidence he built up from game to game in his rookie season, without the fatigue that had begun to show in his most recent action. With everyone sure to be a bit rusty on the physical side, his awareness and puck skills can be standout traits in the best-of-five play-in series versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he will be fresh enough to make good use of them.