Catching The Torch: Nick Suzuki, Cole Fonstad, and the art of deception

<em>Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.</em>

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL), collegiate (NCAA) level.

The battle between a skater rushing up the ice with the puck and a defender or goalie reacting might be my favourite thing in hockey. It’s all in the details, with every movement changing the outcome from a scoring chance to a play that dies at the hands of the defence.

The objective for the player in possession is to misdirect the opposition into giving an opening. It doesn’t have to be a big one; just a small hole in the coverage is often enough to be pounced on by the very talented players out there who know how to take advantage of the slightest mistake. Everything from stick positioning, body rotation, angles, supporting players, and known weaknesses can make the difference.

What is impressive in these battles is the speed at which the information is processed and the fakes and tricks that have been honed by attackers to make their offensive attempts even more effective. Deception is a skill. But some players are naturally more gifted than others.

Sometimes you get lucky in Junior hockey and stumble upon a great camera angle that captures the little things that makes a great offensive rush work.

Like this goal by Cole Fonstad last Tuesday.

The video features a breakdown of the goal.

Fonstad lucked out on the pass that reached him — it deflected off of one stick and bounced over a second one to land on his blade — but the rest of the sequence was a creation of his own.

As he skated up to Red Deer’s goalie, he looked over to his left, seeing the options available to him. He identified another Prince Albert forward supporting him on the rush, but it was clear that the backcheck would catch up with him in a moment, removing the existing passing lane.

It wasn’t the 2-on-1 occasion that Fonstad, primarily a playmaker, would have hoped for. Still, the Habs prospect remained deceptive in his approach. He had his head looking across, showing ‘‘pass’’ to the goalie, but his shoulder and stick positioning remained in a position to rip the puck on net in an instant.

However, Fonstad didn’t have much net to shoot at. The goalie, squared to the puck, covered the angles pretty easily. Making him move was then a necessity.

So, as he moved closer to the net, Fonstad planted his left outside edge in the ice to slow himself down, as if attempted to have the opposing defenceman overshoot his teammate to open the passing lane across. He also sold the pass even further by rotating his upper body and bringing the puck behind him with his stick blade facing — for an instant — the other side of the ice.

In that instant, the goalie read that Fonstad was about to pass, pushing to his right in hope of arriving in time to stop the tap-in that would be the result of the pass across. But in that same second Fonstad took advantage of the goalie’s movement. He unrotated his body, hooked the puck forward, and launched it short side in the opening he just created.

It was a great display of offensive ability from a prospect who hasn’t always had the chance to shine this season.

After a great start to the season — 10 points in seven games — Fonstad had just eight in his next 20 games. In that stretch he bounced up and down in the lineup, and even spent some time on the fourth line.

The Prince Albert Raiders aren’t loaded with talent this season, but they are for the most part spreading the offence and finding success — and that is an understatement.

They have a ridiculous 26-1-0 record; only one loss in 2018-19 for a team that can very realistically aspire to a WHL championship and success at the Memorial Cup.

The good news for Fonstad, apart from the fact that he plays for a strong team, is that he started producing again this week with three points in three games. Let’s hope that he can continue making the most of his minutes to write his name on the scoresheet with more regularity.

It seems that his 73 points in 72 games from last year will be hard to replicate, despite his evident skill-set.

Nick Suzuki, C/RW, Owen Sound Attack

When speaking of deceptive plays, it’s hard not to look over at Owen Sound. Every week there are a few great examples from Nick Suzuki. It’s an integral part of the prospect’s play and a big reason why he is so successful at picking apart opposing defences.

He is patient in possession of the puck, and sometimes all it takes for a play to open is that patience. It makes defenders and goalies uneasy as they see a forward in a threatening position approach the net, ready to shoot, but not fully giving away his intentions. They don’t want to make the first move — rarely a good strategy — but they are almost forced into doing so by Suzuki’s waiting game.

When the defence doesn’t commit in front of him, a subtle move is often enough to have them do so due to the build-up pressure.

Take a look at his goal on Saturday.:

Did you see it?

Suzuki skates over the offensive blue line with the puck, and, as he recognizes the open space in front of him, positions himself for a shot, gliding to the goalie. But he doesn’t immediately fire. He holds, and holds, and holds....

A few feet from the cage, he quickly opens his blade. The goalie immediately goes down, putting his left pad on the ice, sensing an incoming shot. Suzuki uses this to simply circle the poor netminder left was flopping on the ice, in no position to counter the move with a push, and slides the puck behind him.

It’s another play to add to the constant stream of highlights from Suzuki.

Samuel Houde, C, Chicoutimi Saguenéens

According to the Journal de Québec, Samuel Houde is out indefinitely with a concussion. He didn’t play this week.

Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.

CHL weekly performance

Joël TeasdaleFALWQMJHLBlainville-Boisbriand3123
Samuel Houde2018CQMJHLChicoutimiInjured
Cam Hillis2018COHLGuelph1213
Allan McShane2018LW/COHLOshawa3314
Nick Suzuki2017C/RWOHLOwen Sound3123
Cole Fonstad2018LWWHLPrince Albert3123
Jarret Tyszka2017LDWHLSeattleInjured
Scott Walford2017LDWHLVictoria3123
Josh Brook 2017RDWHLMoose Jaw4112

CHL season to date

Joël TeasdaleFALWQMJHLBlainville-Boisbriand28121729
Samuel Houde2018CQMJHLChicoutimi266915
Cam Hillis2018COHLGuelph2571219
Allan McShane2018LW/COHLOshawa2210818
Nick Suzuki2017C/RWOHLOwen Sound27202141
Cole Fonstad2018LWWHLPrince Albert256915
Jarret Tyszka2017LDWHLSeattleInjured
Scott Walford2017LDWHLVictoria212911
Josh Brook 2017RDWHLMoose Jaw2282129

NCAA weekly performance

Jack Gorniak2018LWHockey EastWisconsin2011
Brett Stapley2018CWCHADenver0000
Ryan Poehling2017CNCHCSt. Cloud State2022
Nikolas Koberstein2014RDWCHAAlaska-Fairbanks2022
Jordan Harris2018LDHockey EastNortheastern1011

NCAA season to date

Jack Gorniak2018LWHockey EastWisconsin16235
Brett Stapley2018CWCHADenver123912
Ryan Poehling2017CNCHCSt. Cloud State1431215
Nikolas Koberstein2014RDWCHAAlaska-Fairbanks16066
Jordan Harris2018LDHockey EastNortheastern13156

Cayden Primeau’s weekly performance

Cayden PrimeauNCAANortheastern1-0-01.500.9500

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Cayden PrimeauNCAANortheastern9-3-12.430.9172

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