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Scouting the 2017 NHL draft: Pile on the intelligent forwards like Nick Suzuki

Suzuki is a medium-sized, medium-good skater with amazing hockey intelligence from the OHL.

Owen Sound Attack v Windsor Spitfires Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

If you scroll down to the bottom of this prospect profile, you can watch Nick Suzuki’s highlight video from the 2016-2017 season with the Owen Sound Attack. Scanning these highlights, I noticed that a fair number of his goals are from a deke to the backhand, sending in the puck over the goalie’s stick, picking the top corner of the net. “Is Suzuki a one-trick pony?” I pondered. But then I watched the range of different situations in which he’s able to use this shot.

Suzuki is good at getting goals from many different parts of the ice, whether it’s from the blue line or in the middle of a mess in front of the net; on a breakaway or setting up a system; on a cross-crease pass or scrambling to bat in someone else’s chance. This heat map shows the variety of places where he has scored:

(Heat map is from Prospect-stats.com)

This speaks to hockey sense and on-ice vision. You can watch him think the game more swiftly than the people around him. This also means he’ll do well at the next level.

Suzuki’s calmness and intelligence on the ice is also noticeable in his lack of penalties — all season, he’s taken only ten penalty minutes, earning him the OHL’s most sportsmanlike player award. Suzuki said about this honor, “I pride myself on being a good player by sticking to my game and staying away from taking penalties, and also being a good teammate and someone who is well respected on the ice.” True. (Unless your game IS taking penalties.)

How well has Suzuki done this season? Last season, he earned a ridiculous 45 goals and 51 points in 65 games played, good for 1.17 primary points per game (the only person with a better P1/G is Nico Hischier, at 1.21 — these numbers are from Pension Plan Puppets). Caveat: I’ve just learned that primary-points-per-game are not necessarily tracked in an accurate manner by the OHL, depending on the game, but if you look at all of Suzuki’s points-per-game, 1.47 is still pretty good for his league. In his first OHL season, he had 20 goals and 18 assists in 63 games — you can see that his growth between seasons was exponential.

Update: Suzuki was also just chosen for the OHL’s 2nd All-Star Team.

What critiques have people given him so far?

Everyone mentions that Suzuki is small. Some writers have also pointed to a mediocre skating ability, while some say his skating is fine. He’s no Jeff Skinner on the ice, but also notice how he makes up for superior skating by excellent positioning. He is where he needs to be on the ice, however he manages to get there.

Suzuki is not hulking, at 5’11 and 183 lbs, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have often exploited this market inefficiency and are not afraid of drafting smaller, skilled players. He is also one of the younger players in the draft, with a late birthday (August 10, 1999).

Here are some of the more interesting quotes about him from around the internet:

“[H]e was not included in the top 15 of the TSN Draft Rankings. Ultimately, given his scoring production and defensive awareness, Suzuki should be ranked higher on draft boards.” — Pension Plan Puppets

“Even in defeat against the Erie Otters in the OHL’s Western Conference Finals, Suzuki showed well against a team with Memorial Cup aspirations. Every time he touched the puck, Suzuki could take over stretches of a game. He displayed a knack for reading plays and making the right decisions. He also demonstrated speed and skill needed to enjoy success in the NHL. The team who drafts Suzuki will be one of the winners of the first night of the draft.” — The Hockey Writers

“Despite being a short player, he is strong on the puck, has speed and skill to burn and is a smart player, he will play in a top six role in the NHL when he is ready.” — Dobber Prospects

“This season, he is showing the ability to be a goal scorer as well as the team’s primary playmaker. He has the capability to think quickly and sense the difference between a scoring chance for himself and one for his linemate – something you don’t always see from elite passers in junior. There will be talk that Suzuki doesn’t have ‘ideal size’ to play center at the NHL level. That talk should be dismissed as nothing more than old school scouts perpetuating their ‘big center’ philosophy. The way he skates and sees the ice, Suzuki is perfectly fit to play down the middle.” — The Blogger’s Tribune

5v5 Performance at a glance

From @loserpoints:

This chart shows Suzuki’s percentile rankings among forwards in his age range in the OHL this season. He’s near the top of the league in both goals and primary assists per 60 minutes of ice time, and ranks third overall in primary scoring rate.

Suzuki’s team had much better results when he was on the ice than when he wasn’t. And while his quality of teammates is higher than his quality of competition, it isn’t enough of a disparity to be concerning. Overall, he clearly grades out as one of the top forwards coming out of the OHL and production like this is the reason he is climbing into the top half half of the first round and even the top ten overall in some projections.

Nick Suzuki career statistics

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
2014-2015 London Jr. Knights Min Mdgt AAA AHMMPL 31 34 34 68 16
Team Ontario CWG 6 3 1 4 0
London Jr. Knights Min Mdgt AAA OHL Cup 6 2 4 6 2
London Nationals GOJHL 1 0 1 1 0
Team ALLIANCE OGC-16 5 3 3 6 0
2015-2016 Owen Sound Attack OHL 63 20 18 38 4
Team White U17-Dev 3 0 2 2 2
Canada White U17 WHC-17 6 1 3 4 2
2016-2017 Canada U18 Hlinka Memorial 4 1 2 3 0
Owen Sound Attack OHL 65 45 51 96 10

Table via Elite Prospects.

Highlights