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Suzuki views Stanley Cup Semifinals as proving ground with Canadiens

Faces Golden Knights, who selected forward in first round of 2017 draft, traded him to Montreal

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Nick Suzuki wants to prove the Montreal Canadiens were right more than the Vegas Golden Knights were wrong. 

The forward will play against the team that selected him in the first round (No. 13) of the 2017 NHL Draft when the Canadiens face the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Vegas on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The 21-year-old, traded with forward Tomas Tatar to Montreal in the deal that brought forward Max Pacioretty to Vegas on Sept. 9, 2018, heard all he needed to in one conversation with Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.

"[The trade] worked out for both teams, obviously," Suzuki said Friday. "When Marc called me, he said I was a big piece that they wanted. I just wanted to show that Montreal made the right decision in bringing me over and do everything I can for this franchise."

Suzuki was playing in the Golden Knights' 2018 rookie tournament when he learned about the trade.

"It was definitely a bit of a shock," he said. "I was just kind of brand new. I'd been with [Vegas] for one year.

"... As the days went on, I got more excited to get the opportunity to come and play for this amazing franchise. I just tried to take it all in as much as I can. I'm really lucky to be here."

Suzuki split the 2018-19 season between Owen Sound and Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League, then made the Canadiens last season. He was ninth in voting for the Calder Trophy given to the NHL rookie of the year after he scored 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 71 games. He played well in the 2020 postseason, scoring seven points (four goals, three assists) in 10 games and helping Montreal advance to the Eastern Conference First Round.

"Honestly, we loved Nick's upside," Bergevin said. "But when you look at an 18- or 19-year-old player, it's never the finished product. There's always some steps that the player has to take to reach the next level.

"But I remember clearly that, in Owen Sound during the playoffs (in 2018), I think it was against London and another team. … Nick was the player who stepped up his game. Some players will crumble under pressure, but since a long time, Nick's play always gets better when the stage gets bigger. So that's one thing. Even during the Memorial Cup against Ottawa (in 2019), I saw him play and he really impressed me during the important games, and we see the same thing today. Nick still has a lot of potential and things to improve even at the level he is today. I think he stands out with his intelligence and his skills. We're really proud to have him with us."

This season, Suzuki scored 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in 56 games and has scored eight points (four goals, four assists) in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games, including the winner 59 seconds into overtime of Game 5 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"A few guys have played for Vegas, like 'Tuna' (Tatar) and 'Jonny' (defenseman Jon Merrill), and myself and Max on the other end," Suzuki said. "I wasn't really a part of that (Vegas) team, just one of the prospects that they drafted. Pacioretty played here for a long time (2008-18). He was the captain, a big part of the organization, and I know the fans all liked him when he was playing here, so it's a bit different for him. 

"Everyone's really excited to get going. We haven't played in a few days (since Monday), so I think we're just all anxious to get down there."

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