When looking at the success or failure of a team, the performance of the team leaders is always scrutinized. In Montreal the situation with the Canadiens has been a little different from the norm because they have been in the midst of a complete makeover. It is a young team with a young leadership group and expectations have been kept to a minimum. That is fair.
But if the Canadiens want to escape 30 years of mediocrity some realities need to be addressed.
Enter Nick Suzuki, the captain of the team and the choice by management to build the team around. Over the past 3 seasons, Suzuki has impressively averaged the 4th highest 5v5 ice time among NHL centers and racked up the 35th most points among that group in the same period of time. In points per 60 among centers with more than 180 games played since 2020-21, however, Suzuki ranks 63rd. On the power play, he ranked 46th.
I know I am treading on sacred ground with some fans but it has always been my contention that Suzuki would a fine #2 center. From a points scored per 60 perspective, he would have ranked near the bottom of that group over the past 3 years.
Eleven games into the season the Montreal captain has yet to register a 5v5 assist. The points will come, but he has put himself behind the eight ball with respect to even strength scoring so far this year.
Among that same cohort he ranked 79th in face-off winning percentage. That has improved so far this year and I hope that improvement holds. It would make the rest of his job easier
Suzuki certainly brings other attributes to the table. He is obviously a leader and has embraced Montreal. It is hard to measure what that means to a team but it certainly important. But 1st line players are counted on to carry the burden offensively.
Yes, their are extenuating circumstances. He is one of the younger players in the league and hasn’t had a good right winger other than a brief stint with Kirby Dach. In fact, the entire team is young and still finding its feet. Suzuki has been given credit as a smart player, doing the best with what he has to work with. I can’t argue with that. But smarts alone don’t launch you into elite category and there are limitations to his game.
When Kirby Dach went down with injury the Canadiens lost their most skilled center. His size and reach gave him a big advantage. Dach was the best on the team at gaining the offensive zone. He also excelled at holding onto the puck while looking to make a creative play. Before his injury dropped him, I believe he was on the cusp of becoming a legitimate 1st line center allowing Suzuki to move into a role that really suits him. Now we have to wait until next season to see if that is the case.
In the meantime, I am keeping my expectations for Suzuki at a modest level. If he can score somewhere around 65 points we should be pleased. It wouldn’t be enough to get the Canadiens into the playoffs but it would be a solid contribution by the team captain.