Suzuki? That name sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
If not, it should. In the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Vegas Golden Knights selected forward Nick Suzuki of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack with their second of three first-round picks ahead of their inaugural season. For the entirety of the Golden Knights’ first campaign, fans in Vegas were obviously enthralled with what was taking place on the ice in their own city, but many Knights fans were also enamored with what Suzuki was accomplishing in Owen Sound in his “draft-plus-1” season. In 64 games, the talented forward scored 42 goals and 100 points, creating an ever-growing narrative that he was on track to play in the NHL for the 2018-19 season.
That never ended up happening, though. Last September, the Golden Knights traded Suzuki, Tomas Tatar and a 2019 second-round draft selection to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Max Pacioretty, ending Golden Knights fans’ dreams of seeing the dynamic youngster play for the steel and gold.
In this year’s draft, though, the Knights may have a chance to select another Suzuki. Ryan Suzuki, Nick’s younger brother, is projected to be one of the better playmaking centers available in this year’s draft, and he may very well be on the board when the Knights make their first-round selection.
2018-19 season review
Expectations were high for Suzuki in his second season after being drafted first overall by the Barrie Colts back in 2017. Following a solid rookie season that saw him tally 44 points in 64 games, Suzuki did manage to take a significant step forward in his second OHL campaign. In 65 games, he scored 25 goals and 75 points, which led the Colts by a decently wide margin.
Despite Suzuki’s solid play, though, the Colts were one of the worst teams in the OHL this past season. This was largely due to the team’s ongoing rebuild. Barrie wound up trading two of its better players — New York Rangers prospect Joey Keane and team captain Justin Murray — at the trade deadline, which had an impact on Suzuki’s play.
“It was tough,” Suzuki told The Athletic in a Q&A. “There was already a little bit of stress about my draft year coming into the year. Then kind of taking a different direction and going for a rebuild was definitely tough, but at the same time it gave me a chance to be an assistant captain, get more chances on power plays, penalty kills, stuff like that. So there’s upside to it for sure.”
Even though some were expecting a little more from Suzuki in his draft year, his 2018-19 campaign was certainly a successful one. He was far and away the best player on a very bad Colts team that, without Suzuki, likely would have been in the running for the first overall pick once again.
Suzuki certainly has no shortage of skill in his repertoire. While he lacks the game-breaking speed you like to see from lighter forwards (6-foot and a little over 180 pounds), his puck skills and vision in the offensive zone really are outstanding. His passing ability stands out the most. This is evidenced in the play shown below.
The Colts get a 3-on-1 opportunity against the Niagara IceDogs. Luke Bignell races down the right wing with a Niagara defender closing in. Bignell then passes the puck to Suzuki, skating through the left faceoff circle. Many players would elect to shoot in this situation, but Suzuki instead delivers the puck back to the trailing Aidan Brown, leading to an easy tap-in goal that cut the enemy lead in half.
Suzuki’s expertise as a playmaker is so good that, believe it or not, it actually has a somewhat of a negative effect on his game at times. Suzuki has the potential to create offense on his own, but it is not uncommon to see him elect to make an ill-advised pass even when an opportunity to shoot presents itself. This is backed up by his advanced metrics, provided by Mitch Brown in his CHL Data Tracking Project (hat tip to Eyes On The Prize).
This comes as a bit of a surprise, especially considering just how good Suzuki is with the puck on his stick. Not only does he possess a good, accurate shot, but he’s also flashed some awe-inspiring abilities as a puck handler.
In the play shown below (also against the IceDogs), Suzuki enters the zone cleanly and dangles his way around a pair of Niagara defenders before sneaking a quick wrister past the goaltender.
Considering how skilled Suzuki is in the offensive zone, his artistry on the power play probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Suzuki led all Colts skaters with 28 power-play points in 2018-19, including eight goals and 20 assists. This power-play strike against the Flint Firebirds exhibits his impressive puck handling and sneaky dangerous shot.
Though Suzuki’s offensive acumen is what stands out the most, he also plays a respectable defensive game — good enough that he was trusted with penalty-killing duties this past season.
In the clip below (yet another standout moment against the IceDogs), Suzuki breaks up a Niagara defenseman’s attempt at a controlled zone exit. He then retrieves the loose puck, races down the right wing and fires a laser past the IceDogs’ goaltender to give his team the lead.
While Suzuki is mostly responsible defensively, he has a ways to go before he can be considered a game-changing 200-foot center. His lack of physicality is one of the few flaws in his game, but it’s a notable one. Luckily, this blemish is fixable with a little added muscle and proper development.
The Bottom Line
Ryan Suzuki finished the season as an alternate captain and played in just about every role imaginable for the Colts — 5-on-5, power play and penalty kill. He could stand to bulk up a bit and lacks the physicality many desire from a true top-six NHL center, but his brilliance in the offensive zone is nothing to sneeze at. His vision and playmaking abilities are obvious, but he’s also more than capable of creating offense on his own (though he does often classify as a “pass-first” player).
If you’re expecting Ryan to be as good as his older brother appears to be, you may be left somewhat disappointed. Though Ryan does project to be a very good prospect, Nick could end up being an electrifying NHLer as early as next season. People will likely be comparing him to his older brother for his entire career, but even if he isn’t as good as Nick, Ryan still has the potential to be a very good player for an NHL club in the not-too-distant future.