Nick Suzuki of Golden Knights thrives on 'hockey sense'
Cerebral Vegas center prospect needs to work on skating, strength to be force in NHLby Mike Cranston / NHL.com Correspondent
LAS VEGAS -- Seconds into the first scrimmage at the Vegas Golden Knights development camp, center Nick Suzuki, the 13th pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, was knocked off the puck and sent into the boards by defenseman Erik Brannstrom, the 15th pick.
It only got more intense. By the end of camp, Suzuki had his share of wins in that matchup, and a newfound understanding for what he needs to work on to play in the NHL.
"Me and Erik Brannstrom were kind of going at it a bit," Suzuki said, smiling. "But it's fun to do that. It's fun to compete with him. That's how I like to play hockey."
Suzuki won't turn 18 until Aug. 10. But the 5-foot-11, 183-pound London, Ontario, native, who had 96 points (45 goals, 51 assists) with Owen of the Ontario Hockey League last season, impressed during camp.
"Suzuki went in the top 15 and that's not a fluke," Vegas forward Reid Duke said. "You can tell he's got a good release."
Added defenseman Nicolas Hague, a second-round pick (No. 34) who played for Mississauga in the OHL last season: "I played against Suzuki all year, and I don't think there's too many guys who are better with the puck than he is."
Video: Nick Suzuki on being drafted by Vegas 13th overall
Suzuki was fifth in the Ontario Hockey League last season in points, playing 65 games for Owen. He also had 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 17 playoff games.
"Definitely my hockey sense," Suzuki said when asked of his top attribute. "I think I think the game a lot better than a lot of players. I just use that to my advantage in getting to spots quicker and being in the right spot all the time."
Golden Knights general manager George McPhee eyes Suzuki, Brannstrom and center Cody Glass (No. 6 pick in the 2017 draft) as key to the future of the expansion franchise. Suzuki, a right-handed shot, was ranked as the 10th-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting before the draft.
"We certainly want a skilled team. It's been my experience before and we'd like to do it again," said McPhee, the forrmer Washington Capitals GM. "That's where the game is going, with mobile defensemen, and you've got to have skilled centermen."
Suzuki shrugged off his inauspicious beginning to camp to become a consistent goal scorer in three days of scrimmages at the Las Vegas Ice Center. He showed off his quick shot and playmaking skills, and gained confidence ahead of rookie camp in September.
"I don't have any goals in mind but to just go out there and perform," Suzuki said.
Golden Knights director of player development Wil Nichol gave every player at camp things to work on in the next two months. Suzuki said he wants to work on his skating, but also get stronger. That means long days in the gym so he can avoid being separated from the puck in the future.
"I'm just trying to impress them," Suzuki said, "and then do better in the rookie camp and the main camp."