Name: Ryan Suzuki
Team: Barrie Colts (OHL)
Stats: 65 games played, 25 goals, 50 assists, 75 points, 14 PIMs, +7 plus-minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 18th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Teuvo Teravainen
As paradoxical as this might sound, sometimes being really good at hockey can be a problem.
To say that Barrie Colts forward Ryan Suzuki has been really good at hockey for a long time would be an understatement. A local young phenom in the London, Ontario scene as he was coming up through the hockey ranks, Suzuki was selected first overall by Barrie in the 2017 OHL draft.
He’s also the younger brother of prospect Nick Suzuki, who was drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the 2017 draft but then traded to the Montreal Canadiens as part of the Max Pacioretty deal. Hockey seems to come pretty naturally to the Suzuki family.
So, how could being such a naturally skilled player at a young age be a detriment in a way? The answer is that the competition you face gets harder and harder the older you get, and what works against teenagers doesn’t work as well against grown professionals.
Therein lies the dilemma that scouts have with Suzuki, who jumps around a bit when it comes to various draft rankings.
Make no mistake: Suzuki still possesses the same level of skill that he always had — and boy, it’s a lot of skill. When it comes to the areas of puck control, playmaking, creativity, and offensive vision, Suzuki is near the top of this entire draft class, not that far behind Jack Hughes. He’s an incredibly cerebral player who keeps his head up as he moves, scanning the ice and thinking the play one or two steps ahead of everyone else — sometimes to the detriment of his teammates, who aren’t always ready to accept passes that magically appear on their sticks.
He’s not a blazing skater, often lacking the ability to gain separation from his opponents, but he’s light on his feet and quite slippery. Combining his agility with his soft hands and offensive vision, he excels when it comes to quickly weaving and stick-handling his way through neutral zone traffic and around the offensive zone, or keeping a nice, safe gap from penalty killers while he’s working a power play.
It’s a style of play that works out very well for him — at the junior level. The problem with Suzuki is that there are a few things about his game that will need to be ironed out before his style of play will be effective in the NHL.
The big one is that his intensity is lacking. There are times where the pace of play picks up and Suzuki gets caught lagging behind. It’s certainly a benefit to be able to slow the game down, which Suzuki is a master at doing, but he also needs the ability to move the needle in the opposite direction, especially since play is only going to get faster once he graduates from the OHL. He also tends to hang around the perimeter of the offensive zone a little too much, missing out on chances and points because he didn’t get himself into the dirty areas. He’s a pretty skinny and light kid, so he’ll never be a wrecking ball, but with his hockey sense he should be able to pick his spots well near the opposing net.
The good news is that these weaknesses (with the exceptional of his physique) are correctable. His older brother Nick seemed to take his intensity and focus to another level in this year’s OHL playoffs, so perhaps Ryan will follow suit as he gets older.
If he’s still available when the Dallas Stars get to pick in the 18th spot, it will be quite interesting to see what happens. Whether Suzuki will be the best player still available for that pick is debatable, but one thing that’s for certain is that Dallas doesn’t have a prospect quite like him. Getting someone who specializes in the areas that he does would fill a gaping niche in the team’s prospect pool that has existed for a long, long time.
More interestingly, one can’t help but wonder what the Stars’ offense might look like in the future if they had a slick, creative, playmaking center like Suzuki on a line with big, powerful wingers like Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, Jason Robertson, Albin Eriksson, or Riley Tufte. Perhaps one day that question can become a reality.