Ryan Suzuki will almost certainly climb the steps in Vancouver on June 21 and slip on the jersey of the NHL club who selects him on opening night in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft.
It will mark a two-year journey for him and a four-year run for his family.
Drafted first overall by the Barrie Colts two years ago in the OHL Priority Selection, Ryan Suzuki followed in his older brother Nick’s footsteps. At that time, Nick Suzuki had just established himself as a top-flight major junior player and was about to be taken 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights.
Now the property of the Montreal Canadiens, Nick Suzuki is in the stretch run of a great major junior career, having play-ed for Team Canada in the most recent World Junior and generally having fulfilled lofty expectations that followed him in a four-year career with the Owen Sound Attack and Guelph Storm.
And now Ryan is in precisely the position his older sibling was two years ago.
Is there pressure? Or course. Is it a big deal? Not really.
“There’s pressure on you but I’ve had that a lot already,” said Ryan Suzuki. “Last year there was a lot of pressure being the top pick. I like to have that pressure on me. It pushes me. People have expectations of me but I don’t really listen to that, I just have to go out and play my game.”
Whatever similarities there are in the Nick and now Ryan’s ascent, there are clear differences too.
“They’re not really the same type of player,” said Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief. “Nick plays a different style, a hard-driving (style). Ryan is a pass-first playmaker.”
Ryan Suzuki agrees, to a point.
“Yes,” was his response about differences compared to his brother, “but we both rely on our hockey sense and play making.”
And there raises an interesting question. Does Ryan Suzuki rely a bit too much on his wizardry with the puck? He sees plays that both teammates and defenders cannot, which leads to some interesting scenarios on the ice.
Take for example a January game against the Erie Otters. In the space of five shifts in the middle frame, Suzuki set-up a goal with a beautiful pass down low to linemate Ben Hawerchuk. He later started the play that led to another Colts goal (he was not credited with an assist).
In between those two goals, and with a partially open net about a dozen feet away, Suzuki tried to thread a pass to another teammate. The teammate wasn’t expecting it and missed converting. Shortly after, Suzuki missed a short tap-in because he skated wide of the net, no doubt thinking two steps ahead of everyone else when it was probably better to stay in the moment and stay closer to the cage.
“It’s something I’m working on,” said Suzuki, when asked generally about whether he should shoot more.
“I have had opportunities where I can shoot and I end up over-passing. I think my game has to mature a bit and I have to be a bit more selfish.”
Sure enough, a period later Suzuki drove to the net and scored the eventual winner in a 3-2 Colts victory. He was the second star in an important victory that gave the rebuilding Colts their second win in a row.
Another scout, at another OHL game that evening was told of Suzuki’s game via text.
“I think about him distributing the puck to highly skilled players in the NHL and that makes me not want to drop him too far down my list.
“That’s him in a nutshell.”
Written for the Canadian Hockey League by Peter Robinson of Prospects Hockey.