As one of the staff members responsible for the development of Montreal Canadiens’ prospects, director of player development Rob Ramage’s job is to watch and help prospects in the Canadiens’ system. It meant that when the season started, he had a new player to watch: Nick Suzuki, who was acquired just before training camp.
Suzuki was also one of the final prospects Ramage had to watch this season, playing in the Memorial Cup along with fellow Canadiens Joël Teasdale and Cole Fonstad. Ramage liked what he saw.
“It was a fun two months in the spring watching Nick go to the Memorial Cup,” Ramage said. “He took ownership of his role after getting traded to Guelph. He was definitely the leader on the ice and so as Nick went so did the Guelph Storm.”
Suzuki had 16 goals and 26 assists (42 points) in 24 OHL playoff games before adding three goals and four assists (seven points) in four games at the Memorial Cup.
“Against London, they went down 3-0 [in the series] and they put a full-time defenceman on him who was just abusing him every game and you know what, he fought through it the last four games and went onward and upward from there,” Ramage said. “It really became a pro compete level and he upped it to another level.”
Suzuki had five goals and six assists in the four straight wins against the Knights.
“It’s been an insane whirlwind,” Suzuki said about his last 12 months. “There has been a ton of action, a lot of things going on especially with the World Juniors, and then the long playoff run. A lot of bright lights, a lot of experiences that I can take into the NHL thinking about our resiliency. All these experiences are going to help me in the future.”
On top of the amount of hockey and big moments Suzuki has played in, he was also traded to the Montreal Canadiens on the eve of the team’s training camp. He missed development and rookie camp, and came into NHL training camp as the principal piece in a trade for the team’s former captain.
“I got thrown right into the group but everyone was awesome to me, as I was getting more comfortable with the people around, learning everyone’s name and now it’s been awesome to meet new guys and just get back here and get more comfortable being around the team,” he said.
Suzuki said that some of the newer prospects at development camp got a taste of the Montreal hockey market when the stands were full for mid-week scrimmages, even to his own surprise.
“I don’t feel like it’s too much pressure on me. I was a high pick so there’s an expectation that goes with that,” Suzuki said. “I was getting nothing but great support from Montreal fans. They were always there to cheer me on. Even in Halifax [during the Memorial Cup] I had a ton of fans coming up to me so it’s really cool to see that and it drives me a bit more.”
After a lot of hockey over the last few months, Suzuki will take time off. He plans to get back to working out and working on his skating before training camp when his goal is to get a longer look than he did last year.
He was sent back to junior after just two pre-season games. He said he was surprised by the timing of that decision but says that ultimately the year in the OHL was good for him.
“Me and [Jesperi] Kotkaniemi were the only young guys around, so we were kind of fighting for a spot and he had an amazing camp and an amazing year and hopefully I can do that this year.”
Kotkaniemi was under the media spotlight during development and rookie camp before the spotlight turned to Suzuki after his acquisition. This year, it was Suzuki who faded (slightly) from the spotlight in favour of Ryan Poehling after his sterling NHL debut and Cole Caufield, the newest jewel in the Canadiens’ prospect crown.
Whether it is in Montreal or Laval, Suzuki will get a glimpse of the Montreal hockey spotlight, and get his first taste of professional hockey.