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.
The Erie Otters aren’t a good team this season. They won’t make the playoffs, are racing to the bottom of the standings, and will look to rebuild to be more competitive in the coming years. The Guelph Storm are flying in the opposite direction; true contenders in the upcoming post-season and hoping to make it as far as possible.
So, the matchup of the two teams on Friday was expectedly uneven.
But while it was a night to pad stats for the talented players of the Storm — Isaac Ratcliffe used it to reach the prized 50-goal mark — it was still an incredible, jaw-dropping performance by Nick Suzuki, with constant displays of skill. It clear as ever that the Habs prospect is levels above the average OHL player.
Sometimes it truly feels like Suzuki sees the game move at a much slower pace than his counterparts. He holds on to the puck under heavy pressure like the many surrounding sticks are nothing but props for him to practise his stickhandling. His calm, cool attitude lets him attract the attention of the defence to himself to free his teammates for great scoring chances.
Not that the Habs prospect has a tendency to over-handle (he does on occasion) but he generally seems to know exactly what he can get away with due to his ability to read opponents and make them do what he wants with timely fakes.
Take a look at this sequence, for example:
Suzuki first races to the loose puck. He understands that the space will close on him very quickly, so he finds the nearest escape in a pass to the point.
But the interesting sequence is a few seconds later. It is similar to the first one, in that Suzuki picks up the puck on the boards against defensive pressure. This time, however, he has the space necessary to take control of it and create a play out of nothing.
As he retrieves it, the forward goes with the puck, meaning he takes it away from pressure. This move also drags the defender behind him out of position. After taking a few steps to separate from the opposition, he then slows down. By controlling his speed, Suzuki gives himself room to dangle a second defender: the opposing winger defending the point. By bringing the puck closer to his body and sliding it in his skates, he sets himself free of both defenders.
A second later, not done pulling off his moves, he skates toward a third player in the high slot, effectively attracting the majority of the defence.
There, things get even more interesting. Suzuki has barely any time to process what is going on around him. But in that very short moment, he sees that his own defenceman is skating down from the point. That complicates a potential pass. So Suzuki brings the puck to his forehand and, faking a feed to the blue line (with no one there to actually receive it), he forces the third defender to move his stick into that imaginary passing lane, freeing a real one to his defenceman who descended to the top of the circle.
His team doesn’t turn this great individual play into a dangerous scoring chance, but they definitely had an occasion to capitalize on the space created by Suzuki waltzing through the defence.
Friday night was one of the best performances of the Habs prospect this season, and the above display was not even close to his best sequence, considering the way he assisted on Ratcliffe’s 50th goal.
This play showcases the same abilities that were broken down above.
Coming down the wing with speed, Suzuki fakes that he is beating the defender wide, forcing that defender to cross-over in that direction. He then uses this to slide the puck in between the opponent’s skates and stick to go around him through the middle of the ice, catching the puck one-handed before it gets out of reach.
He recovers and slows himself down in heel-turn position (watch his left skate). This skating position would allow him to move quickly in any direction. The second defender doesn’t know what to expect and freezes. So Suzuki follows it up with another amazing display of vision, threading the puck to Ratcliffe directly in the slot for the goal.
It’s hard to not get hopeful about the prospect’s ability to dominate opponents. As stated from the start, this opposition does not equal in any way what Suzuki will face at the NHL level, but the way the forward can process the game incredibly fast will be a great asset in his transition.
It’s truly the little things in his play that make Suzuki exciting: using a one-handed stick lift from range to take control of the puck over an opponent; a perfect lob pass into space to spring a teammate for a shot; the way he shows restraint, not forcing plays that aren’t there, but adjusting on the fly with his superior stickhandling to the options he has, and, last but not least; his great usage of deception.
It’s in those details that Suzuki earns his Junior dominance.
The Habs prospect finishes the year with 94 points in 59 games, a 108-point pace over a full 68-game season, which would have been the best total of his career. Considering he only joined the Storm in the latter half of the season, it’s very possible that, by playing all of his games with Guelph, he could have finished as one of the OHL’s very top point-producers.
The Guelph Storm will face the Kitchener Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. The Storm are the current favourites, but the Rangers still have taken two games from them post-trade deadline, and the series could go either way. With Sean Durzi, the number-one defenceman of the Storm, injured, the team will more than ever rely on their first line, and especially the duo of Suzuki and Ratcliffe, to carry them as far as they can in the post-season.
It’s one of the last challenges for Suzuki in his Junior career.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL weekly stats
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||2||0||1||1|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||3||1||3||4|
CHL season to date
|Joël Teasdale||FA||LW||QMJHL||BLB / ROU||66||43||37||80|
|Nick Suzuki||2017||C/RW||OHL||OS / GUE||59||34||60||94|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Prince Albert||67||29||44||73|
|Josh Brook||2017||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||59||16||59||75|
NCAA weekly stats
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||End of season|
|Ryan Poehling||2017||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||2||1||0||1|
|Nikolas Koberstein||2014||RD||WCHA||Alaska-Fairbanks||End of season|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||2||0||0||0|
NCAA season to date
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||37||4||11||15|
|Ryan Poehling||2017||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||32||7||23||30|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||34||1||11||12|
Cayden Primeau’s weekly stats
Cayden Primeau’s season to date