Being the centre of attention is nothing new for Ryan Suzuki. The Barrie Colts centre is familiar with pressure and high expectations after being selected with the number one pick overall in last year’s OHL Priority Selection.
That attention has only increased this year with Suzuki rated as one of the top prospects for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and being a main focus for NHL scouts. The talented playmaker admits it’s hard to put that all aside every time he steps on the ice, but his approach remains to do what he knows best and that’s playing his game.
“There’s always a lot of scouts watching, people watching all the time,” explained Suzuki, who has taken a big step forward in his second year with the Colts, racking up seven goals and 20 assists in 17 games. “The OHL draft was kind of a good start, to know what to expect going to a new team, a new organization and stuff like that. I’m definitely excited for (the NHL draft). It’s definitely something I think about, but at the same time you can’t think about it too much (and) put that pressure on yourself. You’ve just got to go out there and play your game.”
For Suzuki, the best part is that he doesn’t feel like he’s going at this alone. Having an older brother to lean on in Owen Sound Attack forward and Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki – who has been through all this – is huge. Not to mention the support he receives from his parents and Colts head coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk. They all remind him not to forget why he started playing the game. It’s fun.
“It’s definitely important,” the six-foot, 170-pound forward said of enjoying himself every time he comes to the rink. “At the end of the day, it’s just a game. If you’re not having fun, it’s not the right thing for you. Everyone on our team loves the game and I just find it fun to come to the rink.”
Suzuki had a solid rookie campaign with the Colts last season, scoring 14 times and adding 30 assists in 64 games. With four of the team’s top five scorers moving up to professional hockey this year, he’s stepped into a much bigger role centring Barrie’s top line. While that’s added more pressure on the shoulders of the young forward, he wouldn’t have it any other way. And judging by strong start, the 17-year-old is handling it just fine.
“I think good players want that,” Hawerchuk said of playing on the top line, power play and penalty kill units and the responsibility that comes with that. “They want those roles. They want that pressure to perform or produce and that’s what makes a player special.”
Suzuki’s strength lies in his offensive game and his ability to find his teammates on the ice. A true playmaker, he and veteran Lucas Chiodo have teamed up alongside a trio of different wingers to form one of the league’s top scoring lines.
The chemistry has been there since Hawerchuk put the duo together full time this season and the results are obvious with both playmakers among the top scorers in the OHL.
“(Chiodo’s) definitely a fun guy to play with,” said Suzuki, who suited up for Team OHL in game four of the Canada-Russia Series at Oshawa on Nov. 12. “We see the ice the same and it just feels so effortless when we’re out there. He knows where I’m going and I know where he’s going.”
Playing with Suzuki means being ready at all times. His ability to find his linemates, even in tough situations, is uncanny. His vision on the ice always seems to be a step or two ahead.
“He’s a very smart hockey player,” Hawerchuk said. “He sees things out there that most guys don’t. He’s got that ability to find that open man. He’s always thinking a step ahead. Those guys are tough to defend. A lot of times, you think he doesn’t see where guy is but he does. He’s always very good at anticipating not only where the puck is, but where it’s going. That’s a big asset to get to the next level.”
Suzuki has worked over the years on getting the puck to his linemates and a little encouragement from dad has helped lead him to success in that part of the game as well.
“My dad used to tell me that assists count more than goals, so I always thought I had to make the pass,” Suzuki said with a chuckle. “Actually, I put a stick on top of a box or something and would pass pucks through the little triangle of the defender just to look for holes in people’s skates and sticks. Just try to get it through.”
While Suzuki takes pride in his playmaking, he admits he’s tried to capitalize more himself on those prime scoring chances, making sure to take the shot when the opportunity is there.
“I think I need to have that killer instinct and shoot myself and be a little more selfish,” the London native said. “I’ve always thought of myself as a pass first, but the last couple of games I’ve been trying to shoot more and so far I’ve had a couple goals, so it’s definitely working out.”
Suzuki says also having a Hall of Famer as a coach has helped him grow his game. The ice time and confidence Hawerchuk has shown him this season has helped him take his game to that next level.
“He’s making me a better player overall, which is unreal,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Photo: Barrie Colts second-year forward Ryan Suzuki is one of the top prospects for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in June. Terry Wilson/OHL Images photo