Ryan Suzuki always has been considered the more polished skater when it came to comparisons between he and Nick Suzuki, his older brother.
But Ryan also is the first to admit that Nick always brought out the best in him when they played on frozen ponds near their home in London, Ontario.
Those battles are a big reason Ryan, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound center for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, is No. 18 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.
Ryan is looking forward to following in his brother's footsteps as a first-round pick; Nick was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights with the No. 13 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft and traded to the Montreal Canadiens as part of the package for Max Pacioretty on Sept. 10.
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"We always battled against each other growing up and I think we get our competitiveness from each other, and it's just helped me a lot throughout my career," Ryan said. "He does some pretty cool things, but I feel I might be a smoother skater. Nick has great hands.
"I know he's happy for me and I think we just root each other on. Sure, there's a little bit of a competition, but at the end of the day we're happy for each other and we both push each other to be the best we can be."
Ryan, 18, said he and Nick, who is 21 months older, each has relied on his hockey sense to get to where they are in their careers.
"I think that's something we both kind of worked on as kids," Ryan said. "Maybe a little bit of it came naturally, but that's the most important thing about our games."
Nick agreed that Ryan always was the more polished skater growing up.
"Skating is something I'm always trying to improve, but we play a similar game and have great hockey smarts," Nick said. "Personality-wise we're a bit different. He's a bit more outgoing and I like to stick to myself a lot of times and do my work. When it comes to hanging out, we like the same stuff."
Ryan and Nick have faced each other six times the past two seasons in the OHL. Nick, who has played for Owen Sound and Guelph has seven points (two goals, five assists) and 29 shots on goal against his brother, while Ryan has one assist and six shots on goal in those games.
"Didn't really get matched up against him too much my first year, but this season my line was against his line most of the time," Ryan said. "He made my job tough but I made his job a little tough. First game we played each other he came by our bench and tapped my shin pads and the ref gave him a slashing penalty which is pretty funny. At first it was weird playing him but at the end of the day it's just another game."
Ryan Suzuki led Barrie with 75 points (25 goals, 50 assists) and 28 power-play points (eight goals, 20 assists) in 65 games this season. He has 119 points (39 goals, 80 assists) in 129 career OHL games.
Barrie coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk said he believes Ryan has another level to reach in his game.
"Sometimes he'll make a play, and while it was a good play, he'll stand and watch," Hawerchuk said. "When you continue to move you're going to get second and third opportunities to score a goal or retrieve the puck. We always stress give-and-go, go to the net and push the pace. He's conscious of that and really working at it. It's something you kind of acquire as you start to get older and stronger."
Suzuki understands what he needs to do to improve his all-around game and eventually get to the next level in his career.
"[Hawerchuk] stresses to me to move my feet when I have the puck because he knows I'm a smart player, so I can see the ice really well, but I have to keep moving my feet," he said. "He says if I'm moving my feet even more options will open up. I've really been working on that and it's gone well so I'm definitely glad he helped me out there."
Hawerchuk obviously saw a lot in Suzuki; Barrie selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 OHL draft.
"We chose him for his playmaking ability and the way he saw the ice," Hawerchuk said. "We just felt like, in time and as he gets stronger and quicker and adds that hockey IQ, he's only going to get better.
"There are only a select few guys who have that vision on the ice and kind of know where every player is, and we just felt like his vision was going to make players around him better."
Central Scouting sees the same potential for growth.
"I would say Ryan is just figuring out how good and how smart he is; he can play with good players because he knows how to distribute the puck," Karl Stewart of NHL Central Scouting said. "Ryan could be the smartest CHL draft-eligible player."
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