Nick Suzuki proving to be intelligent, all-around player
Owen Sound forward showing skills, smarts needed to succeed in NHLby Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer
Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2017 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Owen Sound right wing Nick Suzuki considers himself a pass-first kind of player.
When told of Suzuki's self-assessment, former NHL player and Owen Sound coach Ryan McGill chuckled.
"He's definitely underselling himself when he tells you he's more of a playmaker because he's an all-around player, a 200-foot guy who kills penalties, takes faceoffs, and on top of that is the smartest player on the ice," McGill said.
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Suzuki's play hasn't gone unnoticed this season. He is No. 10 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2017 NHL Draft despite being the 15th-youngest player of the 217 listed. In 65 regular-season games, he had 96 points (45 goals, 51 assists), the third-highest total of any player on Central Scouting's final ranking. The only players with more points were Jayden Helbgewachs of Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League (102) and Kailer Yamamoto of Spokane of the WHL (99).
In two Ontario Hockey League seasons with Owen Sound, Suzuki has 134 points (65 goals, 69 assists) in 128 regular-season games.
"He's definitely been one of the more consistent prospects all year as far as his offense output," Matt Ryan of NHL Central Scouting said. "He's continued to get better. He's been an offensive leader on this team that has been top-10 in Canada all season long. He plays one of the toughest schedules and has some of the toughest matchups every night but can still produce consistently."
Suzuki led Owen Sound with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 17 OHL playoff games, playing on a line with center Kevin Hancock and left wing Jonah Gadjovich. While he's played right wing on the top line much of the season, McGill said Suzuki is a natural center.
"I think he'll be a second-line center in the NHL one day," McGill said. "He kind of models his game after Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins), but Bergeron has been in the NHL a long time. A better comparison might be Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund. It took Backlund a few years to become a real solid player; I think [Suzuki] has the potential to be better than Backlund."
Suzuki, 17, also came up big in big spots. He led Owen Sound with five shorthanded goals, and had 14 power-play goals, six game-winning goals and two overtime goals. He scored the first goal of the game eight times and won 50.9 percent of his faceoffs (394-of-774).
"That's something that can transfer to the next level because Nick is not afraid of big situations," McGill said. "He's very mature beyond his years and nothing really rattles him. He plays that same consistent style each night and tries to be highly competitive."
Suzuki was rated the second-smartest player in a poll of OHL Western Conference coaches, behind Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome of Erie and ahead of New Jersey Devils prospect Blake Speers of Sault Ste. Marie.
"You have to be consistent every night and can't really go through ups and downs," he said. "You have to keep getting better every year; that's how I think most NHL players make it."
McGill said Suzuki continually is looking to improve all areas of his game, something only dedicated teenagers with hopes of one day starring in the NHL care to do.
"He works every day on his one-timer," McGill said. "That's a piece of his arsenal he wants to improve. He's got an excellent quick-release wrist shot, and he continues to work on that. He doesn't shy away from traffic and can play a physical game. He's very good at protecting pucks. He's good driving down the wall and getting inside on defenders to the point where it's very uncomfortable for the defender."
He also was an alternate captain for Owen Sound.
"He's a leader by example and that's kind of how we like things around here," McGill said. "We don't want real vocal people in the room. We like guys to be consistent in practice and be leaders on the ice."