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Suter enjoys logging a lot of minutes for Preds

Tuesday, 02.08.2011 / 3:09 PM / NHL Insider

By John Manasso - Correspondent

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Suter enjoys logging a lot of minutes for Preds
The Preds can lean on Ryan Suter, and they usually do.
NASHVILLE –- For Predators defenseman Ryan Suter, ice time creates a virtuous cycle.

The more he plays, the better he plays, and has he logged some ice time lately.

Three times in Nashville's last 11 games, Suter has played at least 29 minutes, 23 seconds. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Suter makes the task of being chased by hulking, speeding forwards as he retrieves the puck sound as simple as a child's rote memorization of the alphabet or multiplication tables.

"I think the more you play each year, the more games you get, the more comfortable you get, the more confident you get and I think that's definitely playing a big part in things," he said. "Hopefully, I can continue to play well and get rewarded."

Suter ranks 11th in the NHL in time-on-ice-per-game at 25:00 -- an average that would be higher except he played only 1:16 on Oct. 19 against Calgary when he hurt his knee, forcing him to miss several weeks. However, over those last 11, he has averaged 26:40, a pace that would rank him second in the League.

"He's such a good skater," Predators coach Barry Trotz said "You talk about being efficient, he's an efficient guy. So he can crunch some minutes some nights."

While Suter's All-Star defense partner Shea Weber may grab more headlines -– big body, big shot, bone-shaking hits -- Suter would appear to be no less important to the Predators' success. For the first time in several seasons, Suter missed games because of injury. On Oct. 21, Suter's streak of 208 consecutive games played was snapped. In October and November, he missed 11 games in a 13-game span because of the knee he injured in a collision with the Flames' Cory Sarich.

When Suter was out of the lineup, the Preds went 4-6-1. With him, the Western Conference's No. 4 team is 24-13-6. Starting with a 3-0 win on Dec. 11 against Florida in which he had a goal and an assist, Suter totaled 16 points in 18 games. Despite playing 11 fewer games, he is tied with Weber for the team lead in assists with 23 and his plus-18 rating is tied for 11th best among defensemen on the low-scoring Preds, who rank 26th in goals-per-game.

Weber said that since most opposing teams try to take away the defenseman-to-defenseman pass from him and Suter on the power play, it opens up the ice for Suter to quarterback Nashville's unit. That, in turn, has freed up Suter to make even more plays.

"He's a great passer," Weber said. "He sees the ice so well. He's really what makes our power play go."

Detroit's Brian Rafalski first met Suter when Rafalski was working hockey camps at the University of Wisconsin and Suter was 6 or 7 years old. They have played against each other in the Central Division for four years now and in 2010 they formed arguably the best defense pair in the tournament for the U.S. Olympic team.

Rafalski said Suter is as consistent as they come and that he "does everything well."

On Jan. 16, Suter logged 32:43 in a 6-3 loss at Chicago after Preds defenseman Francis Bouillon went out early in the first period with an upper-body injury.

This came one night after Suter played 29:23. Rafalski described what playing that many minutes entails.

"You can't do it every night, but there are definitely days when you feel like you can do that," Rafalski said. "You definitely get a good feel for it because you have more touches. You don't have time to sit back. You're involved and it just keeps your mind sharp. You get a good feel for the game out there. Obviously, it's tough physically in this league because everyone skates so well now. If you're at 80 percent and someone's at 100 percent, regardless of who they are, they're going to give you problems."

Suter's efficiency and ability to play that many minutes comes in large part from his hockey smarts, which are off the charts. Suter not only has great hockey DNA but, as a result, also grew up in a rich hockey environment. The Madison, Wisc., native's father, Bob, famously played for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and his uncle Gary played 17 seasons in the NHL as a defenseman.

"I think he does a lot of things that [Detroit's Nicklas] Lidstrom does," Trotz said of Suter. "He's a good transporter. He makes really good puck decisions. He's got all the subtleties. He strips you of the puck, he's got a great stick. He uses subtle leverages to strip you physically, just the way Nick does. He's a heady guy, a really smart player."

"He's a good transporter. He makes really good puck decisions. He's got all the subtleties. He strips you of the puck, he's got a great stick. He uses subtle leverages to strip you physically, just the way Nick [Lidstrom] does. He's a heady guy, a really smart player."
-- Predators coach Barry Trotz

One of Gary Suter's closest friends was Chris Chelios. They played their college hockey at Wisconsin, although they missed playing on the same team by one year. However, they were teammates on the Chicago Blackhawks for from 1993-94 to 1997-98. With Ryan growing up in Madison -– then between ages 8 and 13 -- his family would frequently make the 150-mile drive to see Chicago play.

Weber said that Suter, 26, often talks about Chelios, a future Hall of Famer. For Suter, it was a kick to play against a childhood idol during his first four years in the League while Chelios was in his late 40s playing for Detroit in the same division.

"You look up to guys like that," he said. "When you're young, you're in awe when you get to meet them and get to watch them."

No longer a wide-eyed young player, Suter and the Predators realize their difficult task ahead in the highly competitive West. Nashville, which has made the playoffs as consistently as almost any team for the last few seasons, sits only two points away from having the conference's third-best record. However, only a three-point cushion separates the Preds from falling out of playoff position.

"I think just hard work and guys on the team -- we don't have any stars on the team," Suter said, proudly wearing a Packers cap a day before the Super Bowl, as he explained Nashville's path to success this season. "We just show up and play hard every night and I think that it says a lot about our organization that Paul Fenton and David Poile, just the way they do things, the way they develop players. It's good to see that we have depth."

Well, they might not have players who act like stars, but they do have stars.
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