Last week I did my first-ever “Sleeper Series” of draft prospects. One player I did not include was Owen Sound’s Nick Suzuki, since he is projected to be a fairly high first-rounder. But make no mistake, Suzuki could end up being the steal of the entire draft.
Scouts love his skill and his compete level. What’s even more intriguing is that, by advanced stats that I have seen, Suzuki was the best possession forward in the entire draft class – better than Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier by a mile.
And if you’re not up on the advanced stats movement, how about goals and assists? Because Suzuki had 45 goals and 96 points in 65 games, making him one of the most prolific producers in his class, too.
“He’s very consistent in his play and he plays the game within the rules,” said Owen Sound coach Ryan McGill. “He plays hard every shift and his teammates love him. His game has grown so much that the sky’s the limit because of how he thinks the game.”
Suzuki won the CHL’s most sportsmanlike player award this year and the fact he was able to avoid the penalty box (10 PIM in the regular season) while still playing a competitive game speaks to the smarts that he brings to the table.
On an Owen Sound Attack team that played in the OHL’s vicious Midwest Division (which also featured Dylan Strome’s Erie Otters and Tyler Parsons’ London Knights), Suzuki helped his squad to an incredible second-half run that saw the squad go 17-1-2 in to end the regular season.
“As a group we really started to buy in, in the second half,” Suzuki said. “We knew we could do something special. Everybody on the team really bought into their own roles.”
The Attack got to the Western Conference final before succumbing to Erie, but the future looks bright. Suzuki leads a draft cohort that also includes running mate Jonah Gadjovich and defenseman Markus Phillips – both of whom will likely be top-50 picks.
And winning in Owen Sound is fun. It’s one of the smallest markets in all of junior hockey (the town has about 22,000 residents), but also a fervent base for the sport.
“I love it,” Suzuki said. “All the fans are really passionate. They get to know you and you get to know some of them. The support we get is pretty unbelievable.”
A big fan of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Suzuki prides himself on being responsible in both ends and it’s fair to say that all NHL teams are looking for elite players like that in the draft.
Born and raised in London, where he played for the Jr. Knights, Suzuki is now a rival of his hometown’s OHL squad, but soon he’ll add another adversary to the pool: younger brother Ryan Suzuki. He was just taken first overall by the Barrie Colts in the OHL draft and will step into the league next season. Ryan has a slightly bigger frame than Nick and is already getting a ton of hype thanks to his smart and skilled game. Right now, big brother Nick is proud – though it comes with a caveat.
“It’s really cool,” he said. “He’s a really good player and it’s good to see him get the recognition he deserves. I really hope he does well in Barrie, but when we play them, I’m gonna give him a hard time.”
That’s nothing new for Nick – but soon he’ll be giving NHL competition a hard time out there.
THE LATEST HOCKEY NEWS PODCAST: