In his first full season with the Detroit Red Wings, Pius Suter solidified himself as a very dependable player on the second line. There has also been an influx of new talent on the roster, especially with the additions of cornerstone rookies Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, and Alex Nedeljkovic. With more roster changes sure to come during the third offseason in Steve Yzerman’s franchise rebuild, where does he fit in as the club seeks to improve on its 74-point performance from this season?
Suter’s Rookie Season in Chicago
Suter signed with the Blackhawks in 2019-20 after leading Switzerland’s National League in goals and points while being named the league’s MVP. There were high expectations for the forward after the discoveries of Artemi Panarin or Dominik Kubalik before him. He has a completely different skill set than those two players. Suter doesn’t possess a dynamic scoring touch or blazing speed but his best attribute is thinking the game at a higher level (from ‘What are the Blackhawks getting in Swiss winger Pius Suter’, The Athletic, July 28, 2020).
Suter had a solid first season with the Blackhawks where he finished with 14 goals and 13 assists in 55 games while ranking 11th in voting for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league’s best rookie. For a first-year player, he blended in naturally with forwards Alex Debrincat and Patrick Kane. However, in the offseason, he surprisingly did not receive a qualifying offer from the Blackhawks making him an unrestricted free agent.
Suter Was a Natural Fit with the Red Wings
With many teams interested in Suter, he signed last summer with the Red Wings to a two-year deal with an average annual cap hit of $3.25 million. They lacked experienced center options behind team captain Dylan Larkin who is actually two months younger than Suter as both were born in 1996. The other centers on the roster included 23-year-old Michael Rasmussen, rookie Joe Veleno, and Mitchell Stephens who played in only 25 games this season mostly in a fourth-line role.
“He doesn’t have wow-you physical tools,” Blashill said of Suter. “He doesn’t shoot it a million miles an hour; he doesn’t skate like crazy. He’s not super big. But he’s really heady, he’s really smart and he knows where to be” (from “Pius Suter proving to be a good fit for Red Wings: ‘He knows where to be’”, Detroitnews.com, April 18, 2022).
Coming to Detroit provided Suter with a great opportunity for ice time which he’s taken full advantage of. He’s one of only three Red Wings to have played in every game this season (Seider and Raymond were the others) which resulted in 15 goals and 21 assists. He finished with a minus-11 rating, which doesn’t seem like a great number, but the franchise finished with a minus-82 goal differential which was 29th in the league. By comparison, his ratio was the best among all regular centers on the roster as Larkin finished with a minus-18 rating, Rasmussen minus-25, and Veleno a minus-15.
Forming Late Season Chemistry with Czech Teammates
Perhaps playing his first season in the NHL with a star player like Kane in Chicago helped make his first season’s point totals of .49 per game a bit unrealistic to duplicate with the struggling Red Wings compared to .44 this season. Yet fans discovered this season that Suter’s value on the team goes beyond the statistics. On March 8, 2022, forward Jakub Vrana, a fellow Czech native, returned to the lineup for the first time this season after recovering from shoulder surgery. All he has done since his return is score 13 goals and five assists in 24 games.
Blashill talked about playing Vrana and Suter with another Czech native Filip Zadina, who was also a first-round draft pick (6th overall) in 2018, on Detroit’s second line. He praised the three forwards’ play as individuals and highlighted the recent responsibility he had seen from Zadina and Vrana. Suter is reliable enough defensively to set a watch to, so Blashill leaving him out was no snub — but rather an indication that he feels Zadina and Vrana’s responsibility is the key to being able to play the trio together in a prominent role (from ‘Can Jakub Vrana score 40 goals for the Red Wings next season, The Athletic, April 14, 2022). Unfortunately, Zadina was lost with three games remaining in the season to appendicitis.
Suter’s Future Role With the Red Wings
Because Suter is only under contract for one more year, the Red Wings will need to make a decision on him after the 2022-23 season. Blashill’s confidence in him being able to anchor the defensive responsibilities on a line with two talented players like Vrana and Zadina gives us a glimpse of how valuable he can be in a complementary role when playing with a star player/scorer. He has the ability to think the game through and provide a calming influence to his linemates which allows their talents to flourish. This will be a valuable asset as more talent joins the roster next season.
Suter has three important qualities that any coach will find very useful: availability, responsibility, and versatility. Next season look for him to start the year as a defensive-minded third or fourth-line center that can be sent over the boards in any situation, and with any line combination and be an effective player.
Rob Klein grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan playing pond hockey every winter, and watching Hockey Night in Canada on CBC every Saturday. Being able to finally watch his Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup in 1997 was his finest NHL moment. As a fan of the NHL for over 40 years he has been able to follow many great teams and appreciate the history of this great game as well as the remarkable talent that is playing today.