Habs Continue Shift Towards Youth by Naming Nick Suzuki Captain
New Management and Coaching Staff Begin their Tenure by Making a Statement
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes was assertive when first hired in January 2022. He made sure that the team would start its next season with a captain. Management pursued its quest to make rejuvenation at the center-front of the team’s rebuild, when it announced on Monday, September 12, that 23-year-old Nick Suzuki would wear the “C” on his jersey.
For the past year or so, there has been a consensus surrounding Suzuki. The question was not to know if the center would one day be named captain, but when? Ever since he arrived in Montreal, the London, Ontario native has proven that he has the maturity and awareness to embrace the high-pressured role of being the Habs’ captain, as proven by the quantity of testimonies from his teammates on the day of his nomination.
Many pundits feared it was too soon for Suzuki to do so, preferring that a player like Brendan Gallagher, or Joel Edmundson wear the “C” in transition before him. Just as the pressure of being the leader in the clubhouse caught up to Max Pacioretty, who asked for a trade less than three years after being awarded captaincy, some worry that Suzuki will burn out if given the title too early in his career.
But the number 14’s personality seems to be different.
Suzuki never feared pressure. Even in the biggest moments, he has always been a leader on the ice.
As a 20-year-old rookie, he led the Canadiens in scoring during the 2020 NHL playoffs. He repeated that accomplishment the following year when the team made it to the Stanley Cup finals.
Despite his young age, he is already the fifth longest-tenured active player on the team and has never missed a game since his arrival in Montreal in 2019.
Instead of spending the last summer back home in Ontario, he stayed in the city. Some politicians might also be happy to know that he has been taking French classes for a while.
Conscious of what it means to be to play for the Canadiens, Suzuki has even been learning French.
Yes, the young man will face tremendous pressure in his new role. The ups and downs of being the captain of a historic franchise like the Canadiens, with its demanding fans and challenging media, is not easy, but Suzuki seems ready to take on the challenge.
And while the 31st captain in Habs history will be the franchise’s youngest ever, the nomination is in line with a trend of young leaders popping off across the NHL. In the past few years, Brady Tkachuk and Nico Hischier were named captains of their respective teams at the age of 22. In 2016, Connor McDavid was given the “C” in Edmonton even though he was only 19. Gabriel Landeskog, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews were named captains of their teams before even turning 21, and they all eventually led their teams to Stanley Cup titles.
So, Suzuki is not the first, and he certainly will not be the last young captain in the league. And the gesture fits perfectly in the rebuild centered around youth Hughes has started since he arrived in Montreal.
The timing of the announcement, which made Suzuki only the second captain of Asian heritage in NHL history, is also very fitting. As Hughes, head coach Martin St-Louis and Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton begin their first full season with the Canadiens, the number 14’s eight-year, $63 million contract also kicks in, assuring he will stay on the team long-term.
Along with Cole Caufield, but also players like Juraj Slafkovsky, Kirby Dach, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Justin Barron, he is part of the future of the Habs. Unlike the other young players in the organization, Suzukialready has the experience and maturity that have given the management and coaching staff the confidence that he will handle the expectations of captaincy correctly.
Eventually, it is thisgroup of players, plus a few more that will be added on the way, whoare expected to make the Canadiens relevant again and give hope back to the fans, just like when Suzuki led the team in scoring inthe team’s cup run back in 2021.