BROSSARD - Veteran Nate Thompson knows how to play his role to perfection.
On top of being an important asset on the penalty kill and in the faceoff dot, the Anchorage, AK native takes his role as a mentor to Nick Suzuki very seriously.
This isn't the first time the 35-year-old center, who played his 700th career NHL game on October 9 in Buffalo, is playing the part of mentor for younger players making a go of it in the best hockey league in the world.
Before being acquired by Montreal on February 11, Thompson had taken Los Angeles Kings winger Austin Wagner under his wing. When Thompson left LA, Wagner - then 21 - took the opportunity to thank Thompson for guiding him through his first years in the League.
Thompson kept it up after swapping the Kings' black, silver, and white sweaters for bleu-blanc-rouge. And now, the beneficiary of his wisdom and knowledge is none other than Suzuki.
The 20-year-old also took the opportunity to highlight the key role Thompson has played in his development and education.
"He's been incredible for me, both off the ice and on it. He's the kind of guy who always comes to see me to talk and help the best he can. We're always talking, whether it's on the bench or on the ice, in practices and games," mentioned Suzuki following practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Monday. "We study some defensive zone details together. He's been in the League a long time and he knows a lot. He's been great with me and he's helped me a lot."
The 2019 Ontario Hockey League playoff MVP also has Thompson to thank for serving up the puck on a silver platter on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Suzuki capitalized and scored his third goal of the season.
Video: TOR@MTL: Thompson, Suzuki connect to extend lead
The London, ON native makes up a rather impressive list of six players who have scored three goals or more in the first 11 games of their career with the Canadiens over the past 40 years.
Stephane Richer (5G in 1995-96) and Brendan Gallagher (4G in 2012-13) are ahead of Suzuki on that list. The Vegas Golden Knights' first-round pick (13th overall) is also tied for third with Mark Hunter (3G in 1981-82), Shayne Corson (3G in 1986-87), and former captain Saku Koivu (3G in 1995-96).
Video: MTL@STL: Suzuki chips one-timer top shelf
That said, Suzuki is just 20 years old and is only just beginning his NHL journey. According to head coach Claude Julien, that makes it extra important to have a grizzled veteran like Thompson to look up to.
"He's a great example on and off the ice. Off the ice, he's here early, he takes care of himself, he trains well. On the ice, you can see his experience and what he does," Julien said of Thompson. "In Nick's situation, he's kind of lucky he has a guy like that not only to look up to, but to play with. That line has been pretty successful for a so-called 'fourth line'. They're producing. It doesn't matter whether it's Weal there with him, or Cousins, and at times Paul Byron. They're creating things. For Nick, he's off to a decent start and there's nothing wrong with where he is right now. We all know what the future holds for him. As long as he's having success and he's gaining confidence and experience, especially next to a guy like Tommy, I think he's in a great position right now."
The Boston Bruins' sixth-round pick (183rd overall) in 2003 is currently the 11th-oldest forward in the NHL.
With that ranking, Thompson boasts plenty of experience in the faceoff circle, having taken 7,152 draws and winning 52.6% of them so far.
As a natural center, Suzuki will surely be able to pick up more than a few tips and tricks on faceoffs.
"It's good to have him with me in the defensive zone. He's very good at faceoffs," expressed Suzuki. "I'm trying to learn new things from him so I improve in the faceoff dot."
Only time will tell exactly what kind of an impact Thompson will have had on Suzuki's development, but it's safe to say the rookie seems to have found himself a big brother for life.