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Julien: 'If they're not here, they're knocking on the door'

The evaluation process continues in the case of both Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling, but they're certainly on the right track

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

BROSSARD - Nick Suzuki will have another shot to impress the Canadiens' brass on Thursday night, and he's primed to seize the opportunity.

Earlier this week, the 20-year-old centerman was the club's most-utilized forward in the preseason opener against the New Jersey Devils playing in between Charles Hudon and Jordan Weal.

This time around versus Florida, Hudon will be replaced by Paul Byron while Weal remains on Suzuki's right side.

Suzuki knows full well that being paired with veterans of that caliber offers up another good chance to shine. Now, he has to find ways to deliver the goods and stand out.

"It's time to take that next step, for sure, making cleaner breakouts, better execution. For me, personally, I think I can take the next stride," insisted Suzuki, following Thursday's morning skate at the Bell Sports Complex. "I got more comfortable through the Red vs. White game and the pre-season game, and I think I'm really comfortable right now where I'm at. I just want to show I can play against these NHL guys and do well out there."

Video: Nick Suzuki on the prospects' strong performances

Suzuki is thrilled to be working with Weal again. He's clearly a big fan of the 27-year-old North Vancouver, BC native's skill set.

"During the morning skate, we were making a few plays on 2-on-1s. He's really talented and he sees the ice really well," praised Suzuki. "Making plays is what I like to do and just getting the opportunity to play with him a lot is making both of us better right now." 

Likewise, Weal is equally high on Suzuki, and he believes the trio has the potential to do some damage against Joel Quenneville's squad at the Bell Centre.

"It's getting better every day. It's kind of one of those things you've got to build the first time playing with a guy, and the kid's got a lot of skill, so it's been fun getting to work out there with him," praised Weal, regarding the Canadiens' No. 14 "With Pauly on our line, there's going to be a lot of speed. If we can get on them quick, and Suzy knows how to get on guys quick and so does Pauly, we can create some turnovers. It's going to be good for us and we're going to create some offense."

Video: Jordan Weal on his line against Florida

Thumbs up from Julien

There's no denying that Suzuki's play has already caught the eye of head coach Claude Julien.

"He's a very confident. I don't think he's intimidated. He came here with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence," praised Julien, before expanding upon his rationale for featuring Suzuki in between experienced players for a second straight contest. "It definitely helps him to play with veterans. It gives him the chance to perform well, but it also allows us to evaluate him properly. You always want to put players in a good spot to show their strengths and give them the best chance possible."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: 1������4������ 🙌#GoHabsGo | @nsuzuki_37

Aside from Suzuki's confidence level, the Habs' bench boss admires the fact that Suzuki effectively used the feedback the organization provided him with after training camp last season to make the necessary improvements to his game.

"Not only is he stronger, but he's also quicker. He did really work on his pace - but the biggest thing is he agreed. He knew after camp that he needed to bring his pace up. It's not something like we had to convince him to do, but we told him this is what you need to do to be a really effective player at our level," explained Julien. "Kudos to him for doing the work to become that."

Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference vs. FLA

But, Suzuki and his good buddy Ryan Poehling haven't secured roster spots with the big club just yet. 

According to Julien, the evaluation process continues.

"They've shown signs definitely of keeping an eye on them and evaluating them well because if they're not here, they're knocking at the door," said Julien. "They haven't earned their spot yet, and I think we've got to keep evaluating. It's too early after two preseason games - and each one of them has only played one - so to start saying I think they've got a spot here would be unrealistic. That's what camps are for and that's what those preseason games are for. You get tougher competition as you get closer to the opener, and that's what sometimes makes a difference between you feeling they can play or they still need some time."

Video: FLA@MTL: Belzile puts Canadiens ahead with SHG

Inspired by a fellow young gun

Admittedly, Suzuki was inspired by the way Jesperi Kotkaniemi went about his business at training camp last year and ultimately earned his rightful place in the NHL ranks.

It serves as added motivation for the former OHL star to put his best foot forward every single time he hits the ice.

"I think management didn't expect him to make the team and do what he did, but I think I saw it coming. He was playing really well and he definitely forced their hand to pick him for the team," reflected Suzuki. "I think all the young guys are wanting that opportunity, and if any of us get that shot, that's going to be awesome. Hopefully it can be me."

Jokingly, assistant captain Brendan Gallagher wasn't about to label the Finn an inspirational figure for prospects just yet…

"I'm not going to give KK that much credit," cracked Gallagher. "They're inspired with the chance to live out their dreams and play in the NHL. That's pretty exciting. That's what's probably giving them the most motivation, not this guy."

Video: Brendan Gallagher on the play of the youngsters

Gallagher does believe, though, that both Poehling and Suzuki are trending in the right direction to possibly start the season in Montreal.

"They know they've got a shot to make the team. They know what they have to do in order to do it, and I think they're doing that right now," praised Gallagher. "It's going to get tougher and tougher as it goes along, but if they continue doing what they're doing, it's going to make some decisions tough."

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