Nick Suzuki had a pretty cool end to the 2017-18 season. Once his Owen Sound Attack squad was knocked out of the OHL playoffs (and after a brief stint with AHL Chicago), he became a black ace for the Vegas Golden Knights, the team that drafted him 13th overall the previous summer. From the end of the San Jose series through to Vegas’ victory over Winnipeg in the conference final, Suzuki got a chance to skate with the pros and see just how fast the Vegas pace was (even in practice).
“I got to go for two weeks during the playoffs and it was a great experience to see all the games and how crazy the fans are,” Suzuki said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Now, Suzuki’s future will play out in front of another set of crazy fans.
Thanks to the deal that made Max Pacioretty a Golden Knight, Suzuki is now property of the Montreal Canadiens, the once-proud franchise that has fallen on dark times.
Given how successful Vegas was last year, there didn’t seem to be a place for Suzuki in the 2018-19 Vegas lineup, and that was all well and good: the youngster is still just 19 and he has unfinished business in the OHL.
“My goal is to win a championship,” he said. “I’ve been close before, but haven’t made the championship series yet. That’s something I really want to do and I want to do it with Owen Sound.”
Of course, Montreal is a black hole when it comes to centers at the moment, so perhaps Suzuki slots in with the Habs right away. He’ll need a big training camp, but the opportunity certainly seems to be there.
A mid-sized pivot with quickness, Suzuki drives possession and plays a versatile game. His biggest strength is his intelligence and he uses that to create offense, leading the Attack with 100 points in 64 games last season. Like many prospects, Suzuki could use more strength, but he’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas.
Paradoxically, Suzuki has also won the OHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player award two years in a row. During that span, he has been pinched for just 28 PIM total. Could he be a future Lady Byng winner? It’s a proud aspect of his game.
“It means a lot,” Suzuki said. “It’s really cool to win the award twice, it’s always something I’ve prided myself on. If I’m back, maybe I can win it a third time.”
And if he does head back to junior, he’ll also get a chance to help Canada defend gold at the world juniors in Vancouver. Suzuki didn’t make the team last year, but the roster for the 2019 tourney will be almost completely new: only Maxime Comtois, Alex Formenton and Robert Thomas are eligible to return from last year’s gold-medal crew.
Long-term, Suzuki gives Montreal another top-six option, though he’s probably not a No. 1 center. A top-line winger or second-line center? Sure, he can hit those marks. If Jesperi Kotkaniemi can develop into a No. 1 center, the Habs are set, because Ryan Poehling could be the next generation’s Ryan O’Reilly, but the Finnish kid still has a ways to go. And the upcoming NHL season still looks like a trainwreck for the Canadiens.
So the Habs are probably picking high again this summer. Depending on where they slot, they might even want to consider taking Nick’s younger brother, Barrie Colts pivot Ryan Suzuki. He’s ultra-talented and may even go higher than his older sibling once the draft comes around. The brothers got to face off against each other last year in the OHL, which was surreal for Nick.
“He’s someone I’ve tried to mentor and to see him out on the ice against me was pretty cool,” he said. “We had a lot of fun with it, a lot of family and friends came out. To see him on the other team was weird at first, but it was really good competition. I took him down a couple times.”
Legally, of course — Suzuki had to keep up his sportsmanlike ways, after all.
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