NHL Player of the Month: Nick Suzuki
After starting the season on a seven-game point streak, Nick Suzuki’s game had slowly tapered off, to the point where some wondered if he’d be best served by getting a stint in the AHL to give him a change of pace. There were many nights in the middle of the season when he didn’t seem to be making any impression on the game at all. But when the importance of the games started to ramp up, Suzuki began to become more noticeable, and has been steadily becoming one of the more impactful players for the team.
He’s established a pattern of playing at his best when his team is under the most pressure. He did it at the Junior level by nearly single-handedly pulling his team to a Memorial Cup berth, led the Montreal Canadiens to a near-upset of the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs last year, and is now one of the key players in getting the Habs’ course corrected in time for a new post-season.
In April, Suzuki paced the team with 13 points, ending the month on a four-game point streak. He was the top forward on the team at generating chances, with 118 of them during his 236 minutes of five-on-five ice time, and also found a new home in the right circle on the power play. His play is reaching its peak at just the right time, and he could be one of the top performers for the club once more when the playoffs roll around.
Honourable mention: Josh Anderson
While most of the team was struggling to make an impact in the month, Anderson was going about his business, using his speed and skill to try to turn things around. His six goals all came at even strength, and two of them stood as game-winners to keep the Canadiens’ heads above water. The effort didn’t go unnoticed by head coach Dominique Ducharme, who sent him over the boards for more minutes than any other forward in April.
AHL Player of the Month: Ryan Poehling
The Canadiens may have struggled to find consistency in the past few months, but the Laval Rocket have been the exact opposite. A huge piece of that has been the incredible showing from their top line of Joël Teasdale, Ryan Poehling, and Joseph Blandisi. While the wingers have been great, Ryan Poehling continues to stand head and shoulders above them down the middle.
With five goals and five assists in eight games, Poehling sits just four points out of the top five for scoring in the AHL. The total rebound in his game has pushed him back into the conversation of the top prospects in the organization. It’s hard to find an area where Poehling might be lacking. His playmaking has been good, he’s trusted to kill penalties, and above all else he’s found confidence in his shot.
That's 10 goals on the year for Ryan Poehling! pic.twitter.com/HePlCaZmv1— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 22, 2021
His skating has reached a new level this season, allowing him to gain separation that he wasn’t finding last year, and with that extra space he’s using his shooting ability to consistently bury pucks in the net. He’s always been positionally sound, but by adding the shooting confidence, Poehling has become an incredible two-way threat. Opposing teams are finding that out the hard way right now.
Ryan Poehling steals, and then snipes on the breakaway for his 11th of the year! pic.twitter.com/4mQb2hhHtt— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 23, 2021
With his fantastic second year, it will be interesting to see where he falls in the pecking order in the NHL, but he’s making a very strong case to be included in the post-season lineup; doubly so with Eric Staal struggling.
European Prospect of the Month: Mattias Norlinder
During the playoffs for an anemic Frölunda team, it was Norlinder who stood out offensively. In a short playoff appearance, Norlinder finished with three goals and two assists, and had one of the highest ice times on the team.
He stood out when Frölunda faced Rögle in the quarter-final, He was sound defensively and showcased his offence when he could as his teammates struggled all over the ice. That meant that he had to do it all by himself sometimes:
Norlinder himself explained to us that, “I reached another level in the playoffs.” The proof is in the pudding, and the performance caught the eye of national team coach Johan Garpenlöv. Norlinder has joined the Swedish National Team for the World Championship camp and practice games.
He finishes the season the way he started it — among the very best players in the nation — and it is at this level that Norlinder needs to perform on next season. This off-season he will look to build up some muscle in order to make sure he is on Frölunda’s top paring to get ready for a jump across the Atlantic come fall 2022.
North American Prospect of the Month: Sean Farrell
Sean Farrell scored 19 points in nine games in April. He broke the record for most assists in the Chicago Steel history, then most points, and then broke the 100-point barrier. That’s a rare feat in the USHL, one that has only been achieved one other time in the past 20 years. A pretty good month indeed for Farrell.
With his second assist of the game, Sean Farrell becomes the second player in @USHL history to reach the 100-point mark in a single season!— xy - Chicago Steel (@ChicagoSteel) April 25, 2021
Farrell has 29G, 71A in 53 games played.@HarvardMHockey | @CanadiensMTL | #WeAreSteel pic.twitter.com/umlUhBCyoZ
It is not just the point totals that impressed, but also his overall play. Farrell continued his penalty-kill responsibilities and further improved his playmaking skills, finishing the month with seven assists in two games.
Farrell is an overripe fruit at this point. He needs better competition to continue pushing and testing the limits of his skill, but also to round out his game. He needs to separate the good and bad parts of his skill set; find out what will continue to work for him as he advances in his career and what are simply Junior tricks. Patterns have to be overwritten to continue his progression.
But before we get to that, the USHL playoffs have just started. Considering the Steel have one of the better formations in the league, if not the best, Farrell’s exploits are not over just yet.