How Pius Suter is ‘giving back’ the trust Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman showed in him

Detroit Free Press

Pius Suter wanted to give back to the man who picked him off the free agent pile, to show it was a smart investment.

He already played his former teammates when the Detroit Red Wings went into Chicago Oct. 24, but that was near the start of the season. The Blackhawks make their appearance at Little Caesars Arena Wednesday, at the halfway point of the season, meaning Suter has had time to reinforce general manager Steve Yzerman’s decision to sign him.

Suter became an unrestricted free agent last summer when the Blackhawks decided not to keep him even after a very good rookie season; 14 goals among 27 points in 55 games.

He described being rejected by the Blackhawks as disappointing, but getting a call from Yzerman was a pretty sweet balm.

“You take it as a big compliment,” Suter said Tuesday. “It means you did something right. You take it with pride and hopefully you can give that trust back.”

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Suter has nine goals among 19 points in 42 games, averaging around 17 minutes per game.

“When we signed Suits as a free agent, we felt he was one of the top guys available to be able to fill a top-two line role at the center ice position,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We felt we had a need there so it made sense to put him there and give him opportunities to play with some guys, and then you spend some time to see who has chemistry.”

Suter was with Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina the first 20 games, but as Zadina struggled and as COVID-19 took a toll on the lineup, Michael Rasmussen, Vladislav Namestnikov and Givani Smith got some looks on the line.

Four games ago Tyler Bertuzzi joined Suter and Fabbri (the three played together for a handful of games as juniors with Guelph), which has ignited the line. That might change when Jakub Vrana makes an  expected  return from shoulder surgery in February, but for now, Bertuzzi’s hard-nosed play has added a needed dimension that reinforced Blashill’s decision to break up Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin.

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“We had some thoughts going into the year and some of those were about Suits playing with Vrana, and obviously that didn’t happen because of the injury,” Blashill said. “That line with Suter, Zadina and Fabbri produced chances, but didn’t produce the production where it became a 1A-type line. Having moved Bert there, the worry I had at that, and the reason it took me a while to do it, was I didn’t want to hurt the production of the top line and ultimately sacrifice both lines. That’s part of what goes into the decision-making process.

“But after a while we felt we needed a second line that could really add a lot of scoring punch, and by putting Bert there, it’s allowed us to have two lines that look dangerous.”

Suter plays bigger than his 5-foot-11, 174-pound body, making plays around the net and going into corners. That grittiness is a big part of his appeal because even though he’s only in his second NHL season, he knows where he must be to be effective.

“He’s not afraid at all,” Blashill said. “He gives away some pounds for sure, he doesn’t have a big frame, but he’s certainly got a good nose for the net. He knows that’s where goals are scored, so he’s committed to finding ways to kind of be a tip-in guy, a guy around the cage, and he’s done a good job of that. He’s done a good job of using his skill set.”

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Suter has been on — and currently off — the power play. He has three points there, all assists, but one of his goals came while he was on a penalty kill. He and Sam Gagner are savvy killers who use their skill set to transport the puck deep into the offensive zone, not just clear it.

“Gags and Suits have made a concerted effort to try and rag it, try and keep it away from the other team, and that’s frustrating for the offensive team,” Blashill said. “Suits has been a really good penalty killer for us, and I think he’s increased our threat a little bit from a shorthanded aspect.”

For Suter, it’s another way to reinforce Yzerman’s decision to offer a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

Penalty killing isn’t glamorous, but it can be satisfying.

“It’s breaking up plays and it’s momentum for the team if you have a good PK shift, maybe get the guys going,” Suter said. “It’s also a way to get extra ice time besides five-on-five if you maybe not are on the power play right away. You get to stay in a rhythm and help out the team. As you see in this league, sometimes five-on-five, there’s not many goals, so it’s going to be decided on the special teams and you want to be on the ice when the game gets decided.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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