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Catching The Torch: Nick Suzuki and Cam Hillis’s bounceback performances

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

Terry Wilson / OHL Images

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) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Nick Suzuki, after recording eight points in three games upon joining the Guelph Storm in a trade, only had a single point in his next five contests. In that time, he was moved from centre to the wing as the coaching staff tried to figure out a way to jumpstart his production.

Suzuki is surrounded by more talent with the Storm, but changing teams is still an adjustment. His first week in Guelph made it seem like it could have been a perfect match between the Habs prospect and his new team, but the following stretch brought the expectations back down. He left an environment, including a billet family, in which he was very comfortable, to come play for an unfamiliar organization, and that meant time to get his game on track once again.

This week, Guelph dropped a game in overtime to the Ottawa 67’s, the top team in the league, but won the two others in crushing fashion against the Saginaw Spirit and Kingston Frontenacs. Suzuki was a key player for them all through those games. He recorded six points, equal parts goals and assists, acted as the main threat on the power-play, and showed a renewed chemistry with Isaac Ratcliffe with whom he orchestrated some pretty creative sequences.

Nick Suzuki wears #9 with the Guelph Storm

The Habs prospect also fully displayed his shooting ability this week. With a man advantage against Saginaw and again versus the 67’s, he picked his spot and fired to beat the goalie cleanly. With the defence in font of him trying to block the shooting lane, Suzuki had no problem finding a path to the net by dragging the puck closer to him to have it fly past the line of defence. This movement also gave his release a deceptive element.

The best shot from Suzuki was likely his second goal in that game. He entered the zone and created some space underneath for a drop pass to Ratcliffe by attacking the defender head-on, pushing him back. He skated behind the line of defence and one-timed a feed from his teammate above the goalie’s shoulder.

What made this play impressive is that not only did he have no angle to pull it off — his shot was coming from right at the goal line — but the puck was a foot in the air when he hit it. The hand-eye coordination required for such a perfect shot was outstanding. A majority of NHL players would have a lot of trouble pulling this shot off in practices, but it seemed like a routine play for Suzuki.

The prospect also showed some playmaking abilities off the rush and in-zone this week, getting through defenders to feed passes to the slot for one-timers, and he managed to turn defence into offence for another point by cutting a play in the neutral zone, carrying the puck in, and in a bit of brilliant foresight, lifting the stick of a defender to let a pass through, ultimately creating a tap-in goal for a teammate behind him.

Guelph’s coaching staff knows that Suzuki can be dangerous with his ability to anticipate, manufacture, and capitalize on turnovers. For this reason, they are using him with Ratcliffe on the penalty kill. With them on the ice, any mistake can result in an immediate scoring chance the other way even if Guelph is a man down.

Take a look at this ridiculous shift by Suzuki. He is consistently a step ahead of the opposition: stick in the passing lane, on top of opposing carriers, and first on loose pucks. He gets a couple of offensive looks from his intense pressure, and should have scored on the last breakaway.

Cam Hillis, C, Guelph Storm

Hillis is back from injury. He missed more than a month of activity, but was cleared to play the first game of February, which was the overtime loss to Ottawa. There, he finally met new teammate and fellow Habs prospect Suzuki first the time on the ice.

Hillis was left pointless in that first contest, but scored the final goal for Guelph against the Frontenacs the following night.

It was one of the better offensive performances of the third-rounder this season.

Cam Hillis wears #8 with the Guelph Storm

He held his composure against back pressure, keeping the puck until he found an option that would allow the Storm to continue their presence in the offensive zone, and managed to find a couple of his teammates in the slot for scoring chances that were barely missed or forced the goalie to make a great save. Hillis’s skating was the main tool helping him generate offence in that game.

He isn’t the fastest in a straight line, but his edges are clearly on a level above most other players’ when he is on the ice. He can pivot on defenders, escape with the puck, and open up his hips to circle the offensive zone and look to make use of his passing ability.

With the new additions to his team, Hillis will likely stay in a middle-six role where he is probably more suited this season. He might not improve his numbers a whole lot until the end of the season in that role, but he can provide supporting offence for the contender that is Guelph, while also being a strong option to go against the opposition’s top lines and shut them down.

The centreman’s pressure in the neutral zone on Saturday generated a lot of turnovers. Getting by him without being stripped of the puck usually meant being pushed to the outside where defenders could step up to deny the access to the zone.

Allan McShane, C, Oshawa Generals

McShane continues his strong play, and now produces regularly. He has 10 points in his last eight games, and 25 total in his last 17 since coming back from the Christmas break. That’s close to a 1.50 point-per-game pace that would give him 100 over a full season. Of course, this projection doesn’t account for consistency, which McShane has struggled with in the past, but it illustrates that the Habs prospect is playing closer to his talent now more than ever.

This resurgence is fueled by stronger pressure off the puck on the forecheck to get more offensive looks, better control of the puck in tight spaces, more net drives, and better teammates with whom he has more chemistry.

Allan McShane wears #61 with the Oshawa Generals

Jarret Tyszka, LD, Seattle Thunderbirds

Tyszka has missed the last couple of games. His head hit the ice after a fight on Saturday. Let’s hope he doesn’t have another concussion after what he just suffered through at the beginning of the season.

Next week’s Catching The Torch will be an in-depth look at Joël Tesdale, who has been on fire for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

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

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 BLB / ROU 50 30 28 58
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 48 13 16 29
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 32 10 12 22
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 45 23 23 46
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL OS / GUE 41 26 34 60
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 52 22 31 53
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle 24 5 11 16
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 48 8 26 34
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 40 10 40 50

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 Big Ten Wisconsin 26 3 7 10
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 23 6 12 18
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 24 5 19 24
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 25 0 8 8
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 23 1 7 8

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau 2017 NCAA Northeastern 13-7-1 2.41 0.921 3