Last season, Nick Suzuki led the Habs in scoring for the first time in his career. Now, as the newly-minted captain begins his eight-year contract, can he build upon his production from last season?
Fresh off signing that extension, expectations were high heading into the season for Suzuki. He didn’t live up to them early on as he failed to score in October and was overwhelmed at times as the key matchup centre with Phillip Danault gone. Frankly, it was a case of too much, too fast for the youngster. In hindsight, that shouldn’t have been all that surprising.
Suzuki, like many, was better offensively following the coaching change and in the 37 games he played under Martin St. Louis, he checked in at just under a point per game. Notably, his playing time jumped to over 21 minutes a game as the line deployment wasn’t quite as balanced although part of that was due to a lot of injuries down the stretch as well.
It’s also worth mentioning that Suzuki’s defensive struggles continued in the second half of the season. There were nights where he played fine in that regard and others where that line was overmatched. With no pressure over the final few months, it was good to keep exposing him to that level of competition but again, with no pressure, the uptick in his offensive output shouldn’t automatically be counted on to continue.
Season Stats: 82 games, 21 goals, 40 assists, 61 points, -29 rating, 30 PIMS, 8 PPG, 4 GWG, 186 shots, 20:31 ATOI, 49.6% faceoffs
(The stats for 2019-20 and 2020-21 have been extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
While it certainly feels like this is going to be a season where a lot of players are moved around the lineup (look no further than training camp), that’s not going to be the case with Suzuki. He is their number one centre and while the depth down the middle has improved, none of those players are going to realistically push Suzuki for playing time. At even strength, he’s going to be the 1C pretty much every night.
He’s also a lock to be on the power play every night. I suspect most nights that will be on the top unit but that’s one spot where if they get into a rut and one of their other middlemen is on, it’s possible that Suzuki could be dropped briefly to the second wave. But as one of their more consistent producers with the man advantage, he’ll have a prominent role.
One area where I could see his role being scaled back a bit is the penalty kill. Not because he isn’t great at it – he was on some of Montreal’s more effective duos last season – but as a way to take some pressure off. This team isn’t going to be winning a lot of games and there are enough other penalty killing centres (Kirby Dach, Christian Dvorak, and Jake Evans; even Sean Monahan has played there in the past) that they won’t have to give Suzuki a regular turn. That could help take some pressure off while putting the Habs in a spot where they could deploy their top line after a successful penalty kill instead of having to sub in a different unit since Suzuki was just out there.
Expectations were pretty high last season and even after all of the negativity that last year brought and the belief that this team won’t be too successful in the standings, the expectations on Suzuki are pretty high again. Yes, a full season under St. Louis probably won’t hurt but this team isn’t going to be as free-flowing as it was down the stretch last year. (At least they won’t be in the first half until they really fall out of the race.)
I also have some doubts about him becoming a true number one centre in terms of production. With some defensive improvement (which is reasonable to expect over time), he’s the type of player that can have a 1C impact but not necessarily score like one. Accordingly, there’s room to improve this season but it might be more gradual than it might seem.
That’s where I’d advise being cautious with where you pick Suzuki if you’re a league that’s drafting late. Don’t swing too high hoping for a big jump in production. He’s someone that, from a fantasy perspective, should be viewed as more of a 2C. That has him still going in the first half of drafts in most pools although you might want to knock him down a few spots if you count plus/minus. That particular stat might not be pretty for him this season. He can be a key player in your fantasy league but just be wary of overreaching based on his role.
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