Montreal Canadiens Should Target Pius Suter As Free Agent

Switzerland's Pius Suter. / AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Switzerland's Pius Suter. / AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens need to add some forward depth for next season. They should be looking everywhere to find it.

The Montreal Canadiens begin training camp today for what could be a 2020 playoff run. They are taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins in a play-in series with the winner moving on to the familiar 16-Team playoff format.

A playoff run was not in the cards when the team was approaching the trade deadline. Accepting their fate as a team that was not a playoff contender, general manager Marc Bergevin went about selling off assets. He traded a handful of players that had contracts that were going to expire at the end of the season.

Out the door for draft picks went Marco Scandella, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nick Cousins, Nate Thompson and Matthew Peca. All of them were in the last year of their deal and they were all moved for draft picks in the future. It was clearly smart asset management by an organization that thought it had no chance at the playoffs.

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Now, everything has changed and the team actually has a shot at being a playoff team. They would have to get by the heavily favoured Pittsburgh Penguins in a Best-of-5 series. That’s not going to be easy, but it will be much easier than the path they were on, which was the one where they had 71 points in 71 games and needed to win their last 11 to have any chance of getting in.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the team’s depth has been greatly reduced. By trading out Kovalchuk, Cousins and Thompson, the Habs shipped out half their bottom six forwards.

They are going to need to add some depth at forward for next season, and one player definitely worth a look is Pius Suter.

Suter’s is not a household name in North America as he has most of his career in his home country of Switzerland. Suter played two years in North America as a teenager when he suited up for the Guelph Storm of the OHL.

He was 17 years old in his first season with the Storm and scored nine goals and 24 points 66 games. He did step up with six goals in 20 playoff games, but he was a depth piece on a deep Storm roster. The following year was a different story.

Suter was no longer a depth piece anymore, he took on a huge role with the team as an 18 year old. He scored 43 goals, which led the team and 72 points which ranked second behind Tyler Bertuzzi.

Suter would return to Switzerland the following year and has played there ever since. This past season was the 24 year old’s best yet. He led the NLA, which is Switzerland’s best league, in goals and points and it wasn’t particularly close. His 30 goals in 50 games were six more than anyone else in the league and he had five more points than the second highest scorer.

Suter has decided to use an NHL out clause in his contract to become a free agent and sign with an NHL team for next season. He is eligible to do that today, as the NHL is officially back in business now. It is always tough to know how well a player can translate from a European league to the NHL, but last year’s leading NLA scorer had no problem as a first year NHL player.

Dominik Kubalik was the top producer in Switzerland last year when he scored 57 points in 50 games. He signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, having played just two years in North America in the past, both in the OHL when he was a teenager. The 24 year old scored 30 goals for the Blackhawks this season and showed the transition from Switzerland to the NHL can be a smooth one for the right player.

Is Suter the next player to make a seamless transition from Switzerland to North America? He has a plethora of experience on the International stage taking on tough competition. He played at the World Under-18 Tournament, the World Juniors, Spengler Cups, the World Championships and even the Olympic Games in 2018. He had two points in four games at the Memorial Cup as a rookie in the OHL.

Considering the Habs have the cap space, the need for depth pieces up front, and a history with signing players like Raphael Diaz and Otto Leskinen out of Europe, Suter would be worth the risk.

Of course, there is very little risk. A versatile forward that can play centre or the wing that will be cost effective next season. He isn’t going to demand a long-term contract with an enormous cap hit. Kubalik was in basically the same position a year ago and he signed for one year and $925,000.

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There is no guarantee that Suter can be as successful as Kubalik right away. However, it is pretty much a guarantee that you wouldn’t regret a one year contract to a skilled forward at about $1 million per year.