BROSSARD - At the Canadiens, the start of a new month means the naming of a new Molson Cup winner. And for February 2020, that winner is 20-year-old rookie Nick Suzuki.
For goaltender Carey Price, it's a perfectly fitting distinction for a young man who's handled himself very well in his first go-round in the NHL.
"He has all the right characteristics of a solid hockey player. He has the demeanor and the hockey IQ," outlined Price. "He's taken advantage of the opportunities that he's been given this season. He's been put in some very demanding spots and he's responded well."
Video: Carey Price on Nick Suzuki's season
Suzuki is currently tied for fourth in the rookie scoring race with 13 goals and 27 assists, and Phillip Danault doesn't think that any of his success happened by fluke.
"He's very consistent. He has 40 points so far this year. He has a good work ethic. For a 20-year-old, maturity isn't always there at the start but in his case, he came here with a lot of maturity, both mentally and physically. "He's been an important part of the power play for us this season," described Danault of Suzuki, who has six goals and 14 points with the man advantage. "He's going to become more important in the coming years."
Video: Phillip Danault on Nick Suzuki
If playing under the spotlight in a pressure-cooker like Montreal might seem intimidating to some, Suzuki has embraced the challenge and has done his utmost to keep focused on his educational experience.
"I know there's a lot of pressure, it's a true honor to have that. I've just been trying to keep my head low and keep working hard," shared Suzuki, who led the Habs with two power play goals and five power play points in February. "I don't say too much in the room. I just try to learn from everyone; we have a bunch of great leaders here. I look up to Phil, I watch him every day, so I get to learn little things from him."
Video: Nick Suzuki on winning his first Molson Cup
Making the jump to the NHL is a big step for any player, even more so when you're coming straight from Junior to the pro's; the season is long and taxing on the body. But Suzuki has made a point of seeking out tips on how best to take advantage of the club's facilities to help ease the burden on the body.
Coming off a season in which he played no fewer than 92 games in the Ontario Hockey League (regular season and playoffs), Memorial Cup, and the World Junior Championship has most certainly helped the London, ON native manage the workload in the big leagues, too.
"I still feel good. I think I've been doing a good job of preparing my body after practices, after games," explained Suzuki, who has yet to miss a game for Montreal in 2019-20. "Even before, I've always done a good job of that throughout my Junior career."
Claude Julien noted that it's normal for a rookie to slow down a bit as he adapts to the rigors of the NHL, but added that Suzuki has more than made up for it with his solid play.
"I see a bit of fatigue in him, but that's always the case in a first season. He recovers well, because he's intelligent," mentioned the coach. "We always found that he's had an incredible hockey sense, and he continues to show it."
Video: Claude Julien's press conference
After enjoying a four-game point streak from February 12-18, the 5-foot-11, 201-pounder has now gone five games without getting on the scoresheet, and it might have something to do with the tougher opposition he's been facing as the regular season calendar starts coming to a close.
"Lots of teams are playing playoff hockey and there's not a lot of room out there. We've had a lot of good games, just tight ones. Teams are really trying to shut things down and get ready for playoffs," described Suzuki, who's averaged 15:54 of ice time this season. "It's really that mindset right now, and the games are faster. There's not a lot of room; and you have to make the most of all your chances.
"It's maybe a little bit more physical. Defensemen aren't letting you go to the net too easily. You have to find ways to get there. It's faster. Everyone's been playing with each other all season, and all teams are getting good reads off each other."
Though he's had an incredible and impressive rookie season until now, that's not to say that Suzuki doesn't see room for improvement in his game, telling reporters he'd like to work on his play away from the puck.
"Probably defensively. It's a challenge now that I'm playing against top lines; there are a lot of talented forwards and I'm still trying to get better down on the wall, in corner battles, and on winning faceoffs," acknowledged Suzuki. "Just the whole defensive aspect that I think you just learn over time and with experience."
Suzuki and the Canadiens hit the road for Brooklyn following Monday's practice. They face the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.