MONTREAL - He may already be in the NHL, but that didn't stop Nick Suzuki from earning quite the distinction from the best prospects in Canada.
The top players in the Canadian Hockey League ahead of the 2020 Draft were in Hamilton on January 16 for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
On top of the game, the prospects met with scouts and the media to answer some questions.
One of those questions in particular caught our attention. The young stars were asked to name the toughest player they've had to play against.
Corey Pronman of The Athletic compiled the results and, according to the best CHL prospects heading into the 2020 Draft, Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki is the toughest player to play against, tied with Alexis Lafreniere, who is pegged to go first overall this coming June.
Suuki and Lafreniere got three votes each. And to find out more about why the Habs rookie was at the top of the list, we got in touch with one of the three prospects who cast his ballot for the Vegas Golden Knights' first overall selection (13th overall) in 2017.
That would be the Saginaw Spirit's Cole Perfetti, who is currently the fourth-ranked North American skater per the mid-season rankings.
For Perfetti, there was no doubt in his mind: Suzuki was the player who had the biggest impact on his team in his final year in the OHL.
"Playing against him last year, I went up against him so many times, especially when he got traded to Guelph. We played them in the playoffs. He was dominant. He could take games over whenever he wanted. It seems like he did whatever he wanted on command. His skills are off the charts and his brain is pretty elite. Going up against a guy like that, who can find the open guy and is always a threat in the offensive zone... it was really tough to play against him. You couldn't really contain him because if you give him one second of space, he's going to make a play by finding a guy or scoring a goal. Playing against him in the playoffs last year, he was a key reason why they beat us and he was one of the best players," recounted Perfetti of Suzuki and the Storm's win over Saginaw in seven games in the Western Conference final. "He was a key reason why they won the OHL. Obviously, he's having a great year right now in Montreal and he's been putting up numbers. It goes to show you that he has that great talent, high in skills and speed. There were a lot of good guys in the OHL last year, but I definitely thought he was the most impactful and he kind of did whatever he wanted, when he wanted to. He was a big threat when we played against him. He's a great player."
Suzuki was brilliant against Perfetti and the Spirit, amassing three goals and 11 points in seven postseason games. The Canadiens' No. 14 finished first in playoff scoring in the OHL with 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points in 24 games.
Perfetti's name might ring a bell for some hockey fans, as the 5-foot-10, 185-pound forward enjoyed a historic performance with Canada in the latest Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
In the semifinal against Sweden, Perfetti scored both his team's goals in regulation before getting Canada the win by finding twine three times in the shootout.
Perfetti and Team Canada ended up losing to Russia in the tournament final.
He may be a blue chip prospect in his own right, but that hasn't prevented Perfetti from being wowed by the way Suzuki handles thinks on the ice. In fact, he affirms it's his best quality.
"It's probably his brain, hockey IQ, and vision. He would make plays that you couldn't really see it, and I don't know how he made it," outlined Perfetti of Suzuki. "Finding the open guy, the right guy, always at the right time. He was setting up players backdoor. His shot and goal-scoring ability are pretty elite. You give him a shot in front of the net or a chance, and he's going to put it in the back of the net. He was lethal by passing and by scoring and I think he was a major threat in the offensive zone, and that's what makes him so hard to contain."
Perfetti now has the opportunity to play with Nick's brother, Ryan, who was acquired by Saginaw on January 10.
The 2020 NHL Draft hopeful continues to keep a close eye on Suzuki's play with the Habs, and he's not the least bit surprised to see how much success he's had thus far.
"He's been doing really well in Montreal. We just acquired his brother in a trade and I'm playing with Ryan now. We've been talking about it a little bit. I watched the boxscore and the highlights from the night before and you constantly see his name," described Perfetti. "I've watched him setting up players at the next level. I'm not surprised that he's doing it; he's a great player. It's pretty cool to see a guy you go up against last year and now he's putting up numbers in the NHL."
Speaking of sparking his teammates, you could say that Suzuki has done an excellent job of it since arriving in Montreal. Just ask Tomas Tatar, the recipient of three clever cross-ice passes from Suzuki so far in 2019-20.
The two other players who voted for the Canadiens rookie in the poll were Jacob Perreault, a Sarnia Sting forward and son of former Hab Yanic Perreault, and Ottawa 67's forward Jack Quinn.