In each of the last three seasons, Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki has shown an improvement in his point-per-game average. Will be able to extend that streak to four straight years?
Last season got off to about as good a start as possible for Suzuki. Any concerns about him scuffling early as he looked to live up to his big contract went out the window pretty quickly. Through the first five weeks of the season, he had already cracked the double-digit mark in goals and assists and was on pace for a 105-point campaign. Not too shabby.
Not surprisingly, he wasn’t able to keep up that type of production as there seemed to be a pretty steep regression to the mean; a 27.5 shooting percentage simply wasn’t going to hold up over an extended stretch. But even during that timeline which led up to the midway point of the season, he didn’t get held off the scoresheet for extended stretches; only once did he go more than two games without a point. He just wasn’t putting up the multi-point efforts like he was early on.
Of course, as the season progressed, many of Montreal’s key players went down to injury. The biggest loss for Suzuki was Cole Caufield, taking the top scoring threat off that line. That took a toll on Suzuki as a rotation of linemates didn’t yield a stable trio and not surprisingly, his production continued to hover lower than the team would have liked. He wound up finishing with a bang with 15 points in his last 13 games, marking the second straight year that he was able to wrap up his season on a high note, albeit in basically ‘garbage time’.
From a utilization standpoint, not much changed as Martin St. Louis leaned hard on his young middleman. He was an all-situations player, ranking second to only Kirby Dach in average power play time per game while seeing consistent time on the penalty kill. At even strength, he was out there when the team was trailing late (which was often the case) and when they were defending a late lead. The end result was a new benchmark in ATOI. Basically, St. Louis threw everything at Suzuki and he handled it relatively well, all things considered.
Stats: 82 GP, 26-40-66, -13, 33 PIMS, 7 PPG, 2 GWG, 162 shots, 47.3% faceoffs, 21:06 ATOI
4 Year Averages
(The stats for 2019-20 and 2020-21 have been extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
While there is a surplus of capable centres on the roster (a statement that has rarely been true when it comes to the Habs in recent years), that shouldn’t really affect Suzuki. I anticipate the order of who is in the two, three, and four slots will change throughout the year but Suzuki should be anchoring the top line throughout the upcoming year.
Caufield, assuming he stays healthy, should be a fixture on one wing. The other player is probably going to be in flux throughout the year. Alex Newhook could get a look. Josh Anderson has seen plenty of time there and should again. Kirby Dach and Sean Monahan are options with one centring the second line and the other being a candidate to move up. If Rafael Harvey-Pinard is on the opening roster – his waiver exemption works against him – then he might be a possibility as well after working well with Suzuki down the stretch. Unless one player can really lock down that spot, the third member of that line is likely to be a revolving door.
On special teams, nothing should change on the power play. He’ll be on the top unit, a group that will see the lion’s share of the playing time. However, without much in the way of new personnel, it’d be unrealistic to expect significant improvements so this isn’t the year to bank on a bunch more power play points. I wonder if they might try to scale back Suzuki’s penalty killing time a little bit, deploying him in more of a third unit role just to try to slightly reduce the number of ‘heavy’ minutes he plays. We’ve seen him slow down at midseason two straight years now, that could be a way to try to help mitigate that a bit.
While Suzuki is unquestionably Montreal’s top middleman, he doesn’t produce like one just yet and honestly, it’d be surprising if he ever gets to that level. That said, there is room for some improvement on his point totals from a year ago although it may come from the assist side of things after scoring at a tough-to-repeat rate last season.
Considering he has yet to miss a game in his career, Suzuki is a reliable second centre in most fantasy formats but avoid the temptation to overdraft him based on the hope of a full season from Caufield. That should get him more assists but won’t put him in the point-per-game range. However, Suzuki should be able to put up a career year once again and will be an important piece in all fantasy leagues.
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