As if Montreal Canadiens fans weren’t excited enough for the return of NHL hockey tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, general manager Marc Bergevin gave them a present a day early. The Habs signed centreman Nick Suzuki to an eight-year, $63 million dollar contract yesterday with an average annual value of $7.875 million dollars per season. The Canadiens showed their faith in their first line centre for the foreseeable future by buying up four years of UFA eligibility and making him the highest paid forward on the team starting next season. Is he worth it? Absolutely.
Nick Suzuki’s second full season was a success in every sense of the word. Suzuki became the most used forward on the Montreal Canadiens and put up 41 points in 56 games. Pro-rated to a full NHL season, the 21-year old put up 60 points, a 19-point increase from his rookie year. With the offensively challenged Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi behind him, Suzuki exclusively faced the opposition’s toughest defensive matchups and continued to produce points. His above-average defensive numbers also saw him trusted by head coach Dominique Ducharme in all situations, including on the penalty kill. He continued to jump from strength to strength in the playoffs where he led the team in scoring with 16 points in 22 games en route to the Stanley Cup Final. Suzuki at the tender age of 22 is already a complete number one center with his 45.7% faceoff percentage perhaps the only drawback to his game.
Compared to other young players in the league last season, Suzuki showed that he is in the top tier of the next great wave of young players. The only players who had more points than him at his age or younger were Dallas’ Jason Robertson and Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov with Suzuki tied with fellow 21 year-olds Martin Necas of the Canes and Quinn Hughes of the Canucks.
Some have questioned if Suzuki will ever be an elite point-producer at the NHL level. The jury is still out on that. But of the top 10 centremen in points last season, only half put up more points than Suzuki did in their second season. Suzuki outperformed Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Alexander Barkov, Mark Scheifele and Ryan O’Reilly as a sophomore. Will he be as good as those star players? Who knows. But hanging with such elite company should give confidence to Montreal Canadiens fans that he can deliver the goods offensively for a long time to come.
The Montreal Canadiens clearly paid for Suzuki’s future potential. But that potential could be fulfilled as early as this season. If Suzuki’s point production jumped by another 20 points this season, he would become the team’s first 80-point player since Alex Kovalev in 2007-2008. While that may seem unrealistic to some, consider that with Danault and Kotkaniemi gone Suzuki will be given even more ice time. His hockey sense and defensive acumen will continue to see him trusted in all situations by Ducharme. Plus, Suzuki will start the season with last season’s leading goal scorer Tyler Toffoli on his left and Calder trophy favourite Cole Caufield on his right. Caufield and Suzuki had instant chemistry in the playoffs and having two goal-scoring trigger men on either side of him should see his point numbers skyrocket. It’s not a matter of if he can reach the 80-point plateau but rather a matter of when. But according to his head coach, the points are only part of what make Suzuki a special player.
“Everything that he does for the team doesn’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet,” head coach Dominique Ducharme said in French yesterday. “Even on a night where he’s not at his best, he still finds a way to have a positive impact on the group in different ways. That’s important for us.”
After the departures of Kotkaniemi and Danault in the summer, Suzuki and his agent David Gagner held all the cards going into this negotiation with general manager Marc Bergevin. Getting maximum term at a number under eight million per season for his present and future top centreman could prove to be some of the best business the Habs GM has pulled off during his decade with the Montreal Canadiens.
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