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 (USHL, NCAA), and professional (ECHL) level.
It wasn’t Nick Suzuki’s goal to be back to Owen Sound after this year’s training camp. He wanted to make a NHL roster, and in some aspects of his play he showed promise.
The Montreal Canadiens had other plans, however. With the optics of a rebuilding season, they don’t need to rush any of their prospects if they are not fully ready. They have to look to the future. Jesperi Kotkaniemi forced their hand, but it wasn’t really the case for Suzuki.
The big difference between those two is that Suzuki was simplifying his game while he was on the ice. The plays attempted in Junior won’t all translate to the top league in the world, that’s a given, but, while Kotkaniemi wasn’t shy in the way he approached games, playing the same way he always has. Suzuki was sometimes defaulting to his more experienced teammates instead of being the creative forward he usually is.
For example, Suzuki was often rimming the puck around the boards, or playing with the cycle instead of challenging the defence like he can.
Another season with Owen Sound isn’t the ideal situation, as the American Hockey League would have been a perfect middle ground for a prospect like Suzuki who recorded around 100 points in back-to-back years. It would have given him a way to get adjusted to a different pace and become comfortable deploying the full extent of his offensive game.
That being said, the OHL remains a highly competitive league and Nick Suzuki seems like a goal oriented young player.
By sending him down, the newly-acquired top prospect can still mature and develop his game against his peers. It’s possible for him to fix clear objectives, areas he wants to improve on and work at it every game while showing the same offensive prowess and possibly represent Canada at the World Juniors.
And Suzuki is off to a good start with three goals in two games thanks to a natural hat trick in his second game back. It was a dominant performance where the forward was all over the ice, recording a ridiculous nine shots on goal in a variety of fashion.
He took advantage of the space in the neutral zone given by the Ottawa 67’s blue-liners to carry the puck in multiple times, wiring pucks on net and making passes through the slot to create scoring chances on the fly.
His first goal was just that. He skated in, faked a shot and turned his firing motion into a pass to his teammate when the defender turned his skates. The rebound bounced to him and he banged it in to open the scoring for his team.
He then tied the game at 2-2 on the powerplay in the middle of the second period. Knowing the sniper ability of Suzuki, Kevin Hancock left the puck for his line-mate at the point. Suzuki circled out of the zone, came in with some speed and, after picking his spot, fired the puck blocker side on the goalie to beat him cleanly.
But his last goal was the most impressive one. Suzuki once again came in the offensive zone with speed, in position for a pass from Alan Lyszczarczyk who was skating back along the face-off circle.
What he did next was just an impressive display of skill and quick reaction. He bounced the puck off of his skate up to his stick, handling it in a way to keep it out of the reach of a defender while getting in front of him; pulled off another stickhandling move to keep the next defender guessing and roofed the puck above the goalie’s shoulder a few inches from the blue-paint.
So that makes three goals scored in succession in three different ways.
Suzuki is showing that he is far from a one-trick pony.
He isn’t one of those junior scorers who stands in front of the net to find rebounds, but he can score near the blue-paint by timing himself well to be at the right place and right time to find those goals. He isn’t the player that stands on the periphery and waits for opportunities, but he can score and make plays from there. He doesn’t rely on his hands to go through defenders and get to the net, but he can do it if given the chance.
At the NHL level, goalies and defencemen will be better, but the variety of his goal scoring and the fact that he is able to take advantage of opponents and create chances for himself project him as a goal scorer even at the next levels.
It will be interesting to see if Suzuki can break his personal high of 45 goals in the OHL this season. He established that in 2016-17, and has improved since and is off to a good start.
Saturday’s game was also a good performance on the defensive side for Suzuki. He was once again slotted in as a winger for the start of the game, but, as explained in article this summer, he had no problem filling the centre position during the game when the situation demanded it.
When Suzuki is first on the back-check, or at least ahead of Kevin Hancock (his centre) on it, he descends low in the defensive end to help his defenceman.
Suzuki reads the play well and rarely hesitates in his positioning. He knows where and who he has to support and is able to exchange duties fluidly.
This type of strategic decision from Owen Sound concerning Suzuki and Hancock should continue this year unless they see a reason to change it. It worked for them last year and there is no reason it won’t this year.
This should really be seen as an advantage when it comes to the development Suzuki. The Canadiens seem to want him to be a centre going forward, but with their newfound depth at the position, he could really slot anywhere they need him to, including on the wing. This isn’t because he isn’t a real centre, it’s simply that the prospect is at ease at both positions.
Owen Sound has three games this week. The good news for them is that the team will get Sean Durzi back for those contests. He is one of the pillars of their defence and it should help the Attack create smoother transitions from their own end towards the opposing net.
This is also a boost to Suzuki as less time spent defending is more occasions for Suzuki to show his incredible talents.
Cam Hillis #8, C, Guelph Storm
Hillis and Suzuki faced each other on Friday when the Attack visited the Storm. Suzuki was left pointless, but Hillis recorded an assist setting up his teammate for a neutral zone rush.
The diminutive centre started the season slowly, but is getting back to form. On Saturday, he had a good two-way game and recorded another assist on the power play threading the needle to his forward on the other side of the defensive box.
Hillis is a great passer, probably his best offensive tool and the half-wall is a perfect position for him on Guelph’s man-advantage. I suspect many more setups like this during the season.
What he has to work on, however, is shooting more. Hillis only has three shots in four games and is still deferring to teammates to fire the puck on net even when he stands right at the doorstep. It’s good to be a deft passer, but if you want your feeds to remain unexpected, mixing a few releases inside your pass routine will keep opponents guessing.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL weekly performances
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||Owen Sound||2||3||0||3|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||3||1||2||3|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||2||0||2||2|
CHL season to date
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||Owen Sound||2||3||0||3|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||5||3||5||8|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||3||2||2||4|