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On-Ice Review: Suter Completes Career Year

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Over the next few months, will take a closer look at some of the areas of the Minnesota Wild's 2015-16 season, from players, to systems, and everything between.

In an NHL so flush with top-notch defensemen, so stacked in terms of blue liners that play the position so proficiently, it's easy to lose Ryan Suter in the shuffle.

The ever-reliable Suter may not have the flash of a P.K. Subban, the speed of an Erik Karlsson, or the gaudy point total of a Brent Burns, but what Suter did this past season was consistently provide elite defending, on top of having his best offensive season of his career.

Suter, who was considered one of the NHL's elite defensemen entering this season, did nothing to tarnish that reputation. Instead, he produced quite possibly his best season of professional hockey in this his fourth season playing for the Minnesota Wild.

His usage was near the top in the NHL; Suter finished second in time on ice per game, clocking in at 28:35 per contest. It was the first time Suter didn’t top that list since 2011-12. Over the past four seasons, Suter's time on ice (8,303:31) dwarfs the rest of the league; Drew Doughty comes in closest at 7947:39. After that, the drop-off goes down to 7405:48, nearly 900 minutes fewer than Suter.

The minutes Suter plays are primarily spent deployed against top competition. In the Central Division that means matching up with the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrick Kane, Matt Duchene, and the list goes on.

But given those assignments, Suter rarely turns the puck over in his own zone, is deft at separating puck from puck-carrier, and processes the game at a pace that sustains the Wild's speed and catalyzes its offense.

"His workload is one thing; it's often talked about," former Head Coach Mike Yeo said in January. "We talk about how much he plays quite a bit, but we don't talk about how effective he is when he's one the ice.

"The way he executes. He retrieves pucks, and the poise he shows when the other team is pressing, when the game is on the line, his defensive play is second to none."

The numbers bear out that not only does the Wild frequently use Suter in important minutes, but he excels in that deployment.

Suter played the second-most minutes of any defenseman with the score within one goal this season, totaling nearly 1,770 minutes of ice time (only Drew Doughty was on the ice more in that score situation with about 10 more). The player with the third-most ice time was Karlsson, who played about 60 fewer minutes than Suter. No other defenseman exceeded 1,700 minutes with the score within a goal.

In those minutes, Suter committed 31 defensive zone giveaways. For reference, Doughty had 63 during those situations. Burns had 72 giveaways, Karlsson had 46, Zdeno Chara had 55, Kris Letang had 51, and the list goes on. In those tight moments, Suter’s ability to limit his giveaways was at an elite level.

To give it some perspective, in the same score situation, four goalies (Pekka Rinne, 50; Mike Condon, 47; Corey Crawford, 34; and Jonathan Quick, 33) all registered more defensive zone giveaways. This is all courtesy Sportsnet’s Stephen Burtch.

Then came Suter's offensive renaissance. In some regards, the way a defenseman's offensive merits are measured can be narrow. Only two assists can be awarded on a goal, but a sequence that starts in the defensive zone can feature many plays that build up the penultimate moment.

And when a player does things that buoy goal scoring on a consistent basis, from making good headman passes, to facilitating clean and controlled zone exits, to even jumping into the rush and spacing the ice, those are offensively important skills not captured in a box score, but can make a defenseman good offensively.

Suter excels in all of those areas, but he also had the easier-to-identify numbers to go along with the unseen this season.

He broke Wild single-season records for a defenseman in assist (43), points (51), multi-point games (11), and shots on goal (188).

In his own record book, Suter matched a career-best in goals (8) and power-play goals (3), and set new highs in points, and shots on goal.

"He's had a real push offensively this year," Yeo said. "He's been doing a great job for us. Just offensively, the way he's contributing, jumping into the play, he's a threat every night, but defensively, he just helps you win."

It all began in training camp when Suter was paired with the right-handed Jared Spurgeon (to his right) in a move that, tactically, was thought to afford Suter more opportunities to get up ice and involved offensively.

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