Paul Maurice Praises Nick Suzuki Ahead Of Thursday Night Matchup With Habs

Nick Suzuki has led his team, as a young, grizzled 24-year-old captain with veteran level poise.
Arizona Coyotes v Montreal Canadiens
Arizona Coyotes v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki continues to grow into a strong two-way number-one centre and one of the league's longest-tenured coaches has taken notice.

Paul Maurice, whose captain - Aleksander Barkov has long been considered one of the NHL's most underrated talents. But he is no kept secret, and while Matthew Tkachuk garners all the attention in Florida, Barkov dominates at both ends of the ice. Widely considered one of the best defensive centres in the game, Barkov has two Frank J. Selke trophies on his resume.

Suzuki has yet to win a Selke trophy, but his play away from the puck has grown considerably. He has improved in the faceoff circle and is consistently called upon for penalty-killing duties. Even more impressive is his ability to impact the game on the scoresheet without cheating on his defensive assignments.

Many have questioned and scoffed at the idea of Suzuki being a legitimate number-one pivot for the Habs. His plus-minus (-13) differential can be thrown into the argument against Suzuki, but the team around him has been less than stellar. His point production has also continued in the right direction, his 56 points in 59 games are 10 fewer than he achieved in 82 games last year.

The craziest part of what Suzuki has been doing is that he could produce more points if he didn't focus on his 200-foot game. On pace for nearly 30 goals and 50 assists, Suzuki hasn't let the pressure of the captaincy get to him. And, when you think that he has reached his ceiling, he seems to find another level.

Canadiens beat writer for the Montreal Gazette put it best, Suzuki does everything with such poignance. Whether it be a pinpoint pass displaying his elite vision or shielding the puck from forecheckers, Suzuki never appears flustered or nervous. He displays his quick skating ability, although he is wise to use it only when necessary.

The biggest part of a compliment like Maurice's is that dynamic two-way centres don't grow on trees. The Panthers have yet to win a Stanley Cup with Barkov, but they have been right in the mix. And much like Patrice Bergeron before them, neither player needs to score 100 points to be considered elite.

It's not to take away from Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak, but playing with Bergeron certainly helped the two wingers elevate to the level they've reached. Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky are similar examples of great players, who benefit from playing with such a smart centre. Individually or with other players, they may be fantastic talents, but having a brilliant pivot feeding them passes helps their production tremendously.

His growth into more of a shooting threat has kept defenders and goaltenders guessing, especially when you consider that his linemates are both legitimate shooting threats. With Stanley Cup final experience under his belt and a desire to keep improving, I can't think of a better candidate for the number-one centre role. And Maurice knows just how good Suzuki is, maybe a Selke nomination could be awaiting Suzuki at season's end.

Regardless of that, he will continue to grow and provide high-IQ hockey, which will be essential for the rebuilding Canadiens.