A former first overall pick in the OHL draft, Ryan Suzuki began the 2018-19 season with significant hype. He had an extremely hot start to his draft season, scoring 19 point in his first ten games, and looked poised to be selected even higher in the 2019 draft than older brother Nick was two summers ago. Unfortunately, Suzuki slowed down a bit mid-season and he began to fall down rankings and even as his production improved he was never really able to get back into the top-10 territory he had been flirting with at the beginning of the year.
The numbers love Suzuki, though, and he was one of the OHL’s most productive first-time draft-eligible forwards this season. While some scouts have expressed concern about his physicality, Suzuki has one of the most well-rounded offensive toolkits in the draft and looks like a potential steal for any team picking in the mid-to-late first round.
- Age/Birthdate: 18 / May 28, 2001
- Birthplace: London, ON, CAN
- Frame: 6-foot-0 / 181 lbs
- Position: Centre
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: Barrie Colts (OHL)
- AHMMPL Champion
- AHMMPL Most Assists (40)
- AHMMPL Most Points (59)
- ALLIANCE Hockey Player of the Year
- OHL Second All-Rookie Team
- U17 WHC Silver Medal
- Hilinka Gretzky Cup Champion
- Hlinka Memorial Gold Medal
2018-19 Stat Rundown
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The most important thing you need to know about Ryan Suzuki is that he loves to pass. He sees plays others don’t and it makes every teammate on the ice a legitimate scoring threat. When it works, it’s a thing of beauty (he’s #61 below):
A lot of players would have taken the shot here. Suzuki’s teammate feeds him a great pass and gets the opposing goalie moving. If Suzuki tries to go short-side or five-hole here, there’s a good chance it’s going in. Instead, he keeps his head up and sees that the Niagara defender is several paces behind Aidan Brown, who pots it into the wide open net. There’s zero chance any goaltender in the OHL stops that one. Suzuki has just turned a good scoring chance into a better one.
You’ve gotta hand it to him, he’s a remarkably unselfish player; to a fault, some might argue, but you’re unlikely to find another draft-eligible OHL player who exhibits his level of creativity with the puck. Offensively, Suzuki is everything you want in a playmaking centre. He’s an excellent skater with great edges and two-step quickness, a fantastic stickhandler, and possesses an accurate wrist shot; all attributes that make him an especially lethal offensive force off the rush.
That having been said, there’s a reason he’s dropped down most rankings over the course of the season. Suzuki’s penchant for keeping to the perimeter in the offensive zone has been the subject of criticism by many in the scouting community. I think the concern is somewhat overblown, largely due to the fact that Suzuki’s pass-first mentality is mistaken for a unwillingness to go to the net or engage physically with opponents. While he’s never going to be mistaken for a power forward, he’s got good strength for his average frame and an active stick which allowed him to win puck battles along the boards.
For a player with a reputation for not getting to the dirty areas, he scored an awful lot of goals from below the hash marks. He could definitely be accused of passing a bit too much, but I’m skeptical of the assertion that he avoids contact. I’m more concerned with his overall consistency than his willingness to go to the net.
I would like to see Suzuki shoot more. He has soft hands and a good shot and with some tweaks to his decision-making in the offensive zone he could greatly improve on the 25 goals he scored this year. On the powerplay, he plays mostly along the half-wall in role of a distributor, and his pass-first reputation has hindered him at times. Opponents have been able to pick off his passes because they don’t have to consider the possibility of a shot.
He can also disappear for stretches when the opposing team clogs up the neutral zone and there are less opportunities to make plays. Increasing his willingness to look for a shot rather than a pass would help him regain control of the game when things aren’t going his way and also help open up space for his linemates by forcing defenders to respect his shot more.
pGPS suggests Suzuki is one of the more underrated prospects of this year’s class, much like his brother was two seasons ago. His 40.6 XLS% and expected production of 44.9 points/82 place him firmly in the top 20 first-time eligible players in the 2019 draft.
There are some very impressive names in Suzuki’s cohort, too. At the high-end, there’s a who’s who of OHL standouts over the past 15 years or so: Matt Duchene, Logan Couture, Nazem Kadri Corey Perry, Mark Scheifele, Ryan O’Reilly, and Rickard Rakell. At the low-end, there are guys like Peter Holland, Cody Hodgson, and Brendan Gaunce; players who struggled to translate their offence to the next level and lacked the tenacity or defensive awareness to successfully adapt to being bottom-six players.
I could see Suzuki having those types of issues adjusting if he doesn’t reach his offensive ceiling. He’s been a decent two-way player at the OHL level, but if he’s unable to make full use of his creativity I just don’t see there being a lot of coaches who would choose to have him in a third or fourth line role over a grittier player. Not yet, anyway.
Much like his older brother Nick was in 2017, Ryan Suzuki is one of the best prospects in this year’s class by SEAL adjusted scoring with 1.25 SEAL adj. P/GP, significantly ahead of some forwards that are drawing much more hype like Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs, Cole Caufield, and Matthew Boldy.
Despite some consistency issues, Suzuki had a positive impact on his teammates’ GF% across the board, with the exception of Lucas Chiodo, who was traded mid-season to the powerhouse Ottawa 67’s, and Jacob Tortora, who was reacquired by the Colts in November after playing with Boston College in the NCAA and played just 33 games in Barrie. To Suzuki’s credit, he kept right on ticking offensively after the Colts traded Chiodo, a frequent linemate with whom Suzuki had developed excellent chemistry.
Suzuki’s game needs polishing, and he needs to add strength if he wants to be successful at the pro level, but overall, he’s likely to provide more offensive upside than most prospects who are projected to be available in the mid-to-late first round. There’s some risk associated with selecting Suzuki, given that he may not have the tools to handle a demotion to the bottom-six, but all the data suggests he’s as good a bet as you can make outside this year’s top ten.
Additional Charts and Data
Rolling Season Data
Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and ontariohockeyleague.com.