If the Chicago Blackhawks have shown anything over the past half decade, it is a good eye for overseas talent and acquisitions. President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Stan Bowman inked forwards Artemi Panarin and Dominik Kubalik to NHL contracts after both had success playing in their respective leagues.
Now enters Swiss forward Pius Suter.
After personally having watched close to 300 video clips of Suter in action in the top-tier National League in Switzerland, it is quite apparent that he has the offensive talent to make his mark in the National Hockey League. As a youngster, Suter had two prior opportunities to crack the lineup with the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders, as both offered the undrafted forward invitations to their respective training camps. For whatever reasons, Suter did not earn a contract and returned back home.
In his first season in the National League during the 2017–18 season, he helped guide the ZSC Lions to the league’s championship. He paced the team with 28 assists in the regular season. He also lead the league in points during the 2019–20 season when he registered 30 goals and 23 assists in 50 games. Suter was awarded the Most Valuable Player for his effort during the regular season.
After exercising the exit clause in his ZSC Lions contract, he inked his name to a one-year, $925,000 entry-level NHL deal, which will allow him to become a restricted free agent after this upcoming season. During the current stoppage of action in the NHL due to COVID-19, Suter has skated in 12 games in the Swiss National League and the second-tier league, registering 10 points.
Suter’s game is definitely one that leads to plenty of strong rushes up the ice into the offensive zone. His skating is very good and shifty. He can beat his defender to the outside, but shows keen decision-making, allowing him to work into the center of the ice if his defender crosses him. His ability to make plays at top speed makes him difficult to defend for slower opponents.
The center/left wing’s shot is sneaky quick and very accurate. Suter does not need a lot of time and space to get his shot off and shows a love for the top shelf like most professional players. He creates space for himself with the puck on his stick and does a nice job finding open teammates. During views, he did not make many bad decisions, often making the “simple” play most of the time.
One aspect of his game that will help the Blackhawks is his nose for the net. For several years, Chicago has lacked players that are willing to get to the net and make plays in “tough” areas. He keeps his feet moving, which makes him hard to keep track of in his own zone. Although not the biggest of forwards, Suter’s heat maps over the past few seasons show a ton of action inside of 10 feet of the net—definitely a good sign for this offense.
One area that bears watching in camp and throughout the season is his ability to play in the best league in the world when the game gets quicker, harder and on a smaller ice surface. Suter does a nice job avoiding contact, though, because he is so active. His shiftiness should remind one of Patrick Kane’s ability to miss checks and keep himself out of harm’s way on most nights. With that being said, the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Suter is strong on his skates.
With the news of Jonathan Toews being out indefinitely with a medical condition, Suter’s chances increased even more than they had when it was announced that forwards Kirby Dach and Alexander Nylander would miss significant time following surgeries. Someone has to play the 50 minutes a night left open by the three subtractions from the opening night lineup.
Suter’s ability to play alongside Kane is something that will be interesting to watch shake out in training camp and into the early season. With all the current forwards out (Toews, Dach, Nylander, Zack Smith and Andrew Shaw all injured and Dylan Strome still unsigned), the opportunity could be his for the taking. If the 24-year-old Swiss native shows he has some chemistry with Kane, this would be an opportunity of a lifetime for him. However, as we have seen in the past, not everyone has the talent to play with Kane.
One aspect that should fit with Kane is Suter’s ability to get the puck to his linemates and make his way to the net to make plays. His north-south ability is something that works with Kane’s creativity and vision. This would be a best-case scenario for the Blackhawks organization since Strome ‘s status and role remains unclear, and some other bottom-six forward would not be forced to play bigger minutes than they are probably ready for.
At the very least, head coach Jeremy Colliton should be able to deploy Suter on the penalty kill and work him into the lineup for 12–15 minutes a night, if he shows he needs some time to adjust to the better league. Anything worse than this would be a complete letdown on this depleted roster. If forwards Lucas Wallmark, Ryan Carpenter, Brandon Pirri, Matthew Highmore and David Kampf are outplaying Suter, then this would be a complete disaster for Suter and he will be on his way back overseas.
As a defender, Suter shows an active stick and a willingness to play with a high motor in his own zone. He does a nice job of taking away space for his opponent. Suter is responsible and understands his responsibilities and can play within a system. His speed and tenacity are something that should play out for him if he is playing bottom-six minutes.
To wrap things up, Suter has the talent to be another Bowman signing that makes fans wonder why the Hawk GM cannot draft like he finds European talent. However, I would temper comparisons to Panarin and Kubalik. Suter is in the right situation on a “rebuilding” team that has been ripped apart by recent injuries and medical conditions. If given the opportunity by Colliton, Suter will show he is a trusted two-way forward who can chip in offensively and figure in the team’s future plans if he is re-signed next summer.
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