Nick Suzuki was one of the pleasant surprises for the Habs last season and was one of their top players in the playoffs. That has led to some high expectations for the sophomore for the upcoming campaign.
After a strong showing in the OHL playoffs and Memorial Cup, the hope was that Suzuki would be able to break camp with Montreal and he did more than enough to do so, finishing tied for the team lead in preseason scoring along the way. Still, he was in a limited role to start the year at five-on-five but still saw enough special teams time to play decent minutes for a rookie.
Things really started to change in the second half of the season. After the Christmas break, Suzuki logged over 17 minutes per game and became a fixture in Montreal’s top six, predominantly playing on their second line. His offensive numbers didn’t improve significantly in that span although it’s worth mentioning that he clearly had run out of gas down the stretch and had it not been for an assist in their final regular season contest, he would have ended his year on a nine-game point drought.
The stoppage during the pandemic was great for a lot of players but perhaps no player benefitted more than Suzuki. When the postseason came, he was called on to play a critical role, even taking over on the number one line for a bit. He responded by tying for the team lead in points and showing that he’s ready to be a core player on the Habs already and down the road for years to come.
Season Stats: 71 GP, 13 goals, 28 assists, 41 points, -15 rating, 6 PIMS, 6 PPG, 1 GWG, 138 shots, 15:59 ATOI, 53.4 CF%
Playoff Stats: 10 GP, 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points, +3 rating, 0 PIMS, 1 PPG, 1 GWG, 37 shots, 19:11 ATOI, 50.2 CF%
(As last season was his rookie year, there are no career averages to dive into so we’ll skip this usual section.)
This could go quite a few different ways but let’s get the easy one out of the way first. After spending a lot of last season on the right wing, he will be playing down the middle moving forward. That was made evident by the Max Domi trade just before the draft and the fact that Phillip Danault hasn’t signed a contract extension yet also cements the idea that Suzuki is a centre now.
Which line he winds up pivoting is a little tougher to call though. I still believe the usual top line stays intact so at least to start, I expect to see him back on the second line, probably alongside Jonathan Drouin after the two showed some chemistry in the playoffs that was often lacking during the regular season. As things stand, newcomers Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson will likely contend for the 2RW spot to round out that trio. Both have a scoring touch (Toffoli is certainly the more consistent of the two) which should be particularly enticing for a strong playmaker like Suzuki.
One element that should be appealing to fantasy managers is the power play. I’ll pause for a second while you stop laughing. In all seriousness, the options for the man advantage have improved up front and Suzuki should be on that number one unit which makes him poised to benefit from it. The power play can’t be as bad as it was last season so he should get a bit of a bump after already being one of their top threats at 5-on-4. I also expect him to receive a similar deployment on the penalty kill that he had in the playoffs where he will get at least a short shift for each time they’re shorthanded though that won’t help his offensive numbers.
Suzuki is one of the more intriguing cases that the Habs have. I think expectations from the fans are a little too high at this point; a high-50 to low 60-point pace is certainly doable down the road but this is still a by-committee attack and he’s probably not going to log the most minutes down the middle. I’m not a big believer in the sophomore slump hitting him (even though it happened to Jesperi Kotkaniemi last year) as his all-around game is good enough to allow Claude Julien to give him the freedom to play his way out of any offensive scuffles.
There is definitely a risk/reward element when it comes to Suzuki and that’s thanks to Drouin. As we all know by now, if ‘good’ Drouin shows up, he can put up some big numbers and Suzuki will be the direct beneficiary of that. If the more mercurial version plays (as has been the case for most of his career), Suzuki’s point potential will certainly take a hit at those times.
Based on his postseason performance, Suzuki feels like a candidate to be taken higher than he probably should be. He’s probably going to be a number two centre on a team that should be in the middle of the pack in scoring. That combination makes him a 3C in a lot of fantasy formats and a 4C in shallower leagues. There’s no doubt that he’ll be a key cog for the Habs this coming season but he’s more of a secondary option in fantasy and should be picked towards the back half of the draft in deeper leagues and close to the end in 12-team formats.
Since we don’t know the season length at this time, we’re going to use two sets of numbers. The first will be based on a 56-game campaign which is the NHL’s revised target for a mid-January start while the numbers in brackets will be those numbers pro-rated to a 48-game length which is speculated to be the minimum number of games they intend to play.
GP: 54 (46)
Goals: 15 (13)
Assists: 23 (20)
Points: 38 (33)
+/-: -6 (-5)
PIMS: 10 (8)
PPG: 5 (4)
GWG: 3 (3)
Shots: 122 (104)