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

Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.

Robert Murray/WHL

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

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand 3 1 2 3
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi Injured
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 1 2 1 3
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 3 3 1 4
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 3 1 2 3
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 3 1 2 3
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 3 1 2 3
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 4 1 1 2

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand 28 12 17 29
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 26 6 9 15
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 25 7 12 19
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 22 10 8 18
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 27 20 21 41
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 25 6 9 15
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 21 2 9 11
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 22 8 21 29

NCAA weekly performance

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Hockey East Wisconsin 2 0 1 1
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 0 0 0 0
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 2 0 2 2
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 2 0 2 2
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 1 0 1 1

NCAA season to date

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Hockey East Wisconsin 16 2 3 5
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 12 3 9 12
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 14 3 12 15
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 16 0 6 6
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 13 1 5 6

Cayden Primeau’s weekly performance

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 1-0-0 1.50 0.950 0

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 9-3-1 2.43 0.917 2