Suzuki: One confident youngster
On Monday night, Nick Suzuki will have a shot at showcasing his talents up the middleby Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com
BROSSARD - It's a big night for Nick Suzuki.
The preseason opener against the New Jersey Devils at the Bell Centre marks the 20-year-old forward's first real opportunity to impress the Canadiens' brass.
Head coach Claude Julien will be featuring Suzuki at center on a line flanked by Charles Hudon on the left and Jordan Weal on the right.
The veteran bench boss has kept the trio intact throughout training camp thus far, which has helped Suzuki grow increasingly at ease alongside the pair.
"I definitely feel comfortable. It's been getting better each day," said Suzuki, of being partnered with Hudon and Weal. "I'm getting more confidence playing with them, more chemistry. Both of them have been talking to me a lot, and I think we've just been making good progress the whole time we've been playing together."
One of four right-handed centermen on the training camp roster - along with Weal and fellow youngsters Jake Evans and Alexandre Alain - the former OHL standout with the Owen Sound Attack and Guelph Storm is eager to demonstrate his prowess up the middle.
Suzuki can also play right-wing, so he's being presented with a prime chance to showcase his versatility.
"I think it's an asset. For me, being able to play both positions up front is huge. There aren't a lot of right-handed centers on the team right now," said Suzuki. "I'm confident playing both. It's a good opportunity to show that I can play both positions as well, and I'm just trying to make the most of it."
He'd like to be particularly efficient in the faceoff circle, of course. And he's been honing that all-important aspect of his game recently.
"As you get older, it just comes more naturally with strength and skills. We're working on it at the end of practice. I feel really confident taking faceoffs," explained Suzuki, who won 54.9% of his regular-season draws last year in the Junior ranks. "It's just a skill you've got to master, and there's a ton of great faceoff guys that have made a career out of it. It's definitely a huge thing."
Suzuki will also see some power play time against New Jersey after being placed on the top unit ahead of the morning skate.
No doubt making an impression in that department would be another big checkmark on his evaluation form, too.
"Doing well on the player play is always good. If I can help that in any way, I think that's a huge plus for me trying to make the team," mentioned Suzuki, who registered 11 goals and 29 points on the power play alone during the 2018-19 campaign. "Both units looked really good, and when we get the opportunity, hopefully we can capitalize and make some good plays out there."
Suzuki feeling physically ready
The London, ON native is adamant that his body is prepared for the rigors of the NHL ranks.
He senses key improvements in his playing ability already as a direct result of his offseason training regimen.
"Throughout the summer, I felt a lot stronger coming into camp. I feel a lot stronger down low in the corners than I did last year, and that was a big focus point for me," insisted the 5-foot-11 pivot. "Just getting the confidence to know that I can play with these guys, be strong and control the puck down low, is huge for me."
Video: Nick Suzuki on playing center
It's safe to say that upping his muscle mass is paying dividends.
"I think I started around 193 pounds and now I'm at 202," confirmed Suzuki. "I kept my same body fat and just put on a lot more muscle, and more on my lower body."
Hudon is trying to help
Admittedly, Hudon has done his best to help Suzuki along on the South Shore.
The 25-year-old left-winger is keeping the lines of communication open at every opportunity between himself and the former first-round selection.
"Nick is a young guy who always wants to learn and improve. I think he's a lot like me when I arrived in Montreal. He doesn't talk a lot, but he likes to get feedback," shared Hudon. "Every time we're on the bench, I try to talk to him and make him laugh to loosen him up. We have a good line, and we'll try to show that tonight."
Like Suzuki, Hudon made some big strides in the fitness department over the summer in his bid to earn a roster spot with the Habs.
He's down 17 pounds from the start of last season and tweaked his diet.
"My trainer Stephane Dube and I worked a lot in the gym. My wife and I also tried some new recipes to be in better shape. We tried some vegan food," revealed Hudon with a smile. "It's good, but it's different. Sometimes, I don't ask her what's on my plate, but I eat is anyway."
As for his motivation level to deliver the goods during the preseason, similar to Suzuki, it couldn't be higher.
"I feel good. I don't think a lot of people in the media see me on the team for the first game of the season. It's just added motivation," concluded Hudon, who suited up for just 32 games with the Canadiens last year. "I'm focusing on the game tonight, and then we'll see what happens after that."