Ryan Suzuki finished up a shortened OHL season with the Saginaw Spirit after a deadline trade sent the former Barrie Colts forward to Saginaw in exchange for two players and six draft picks. OHL trades aren’t uncommon, particularly for NHL prospects, and now Suzuki gets a chance to shine with one of the OHL’s best teams. More recently, Suzuki was named to the Carolina Hurricanes’ Return to Play team and could fill in if there’s an injury to one of the roster players. Suzuki, along with fellow Canes prospect Jamieson Rees, was invited to Hockey Canada’s summer camp for the World Juniors, which will be held remotely this summer.
I listed Suzuki as the Hurricanes’ best prospect in my prospect rankings due to his elite skill in the offensive zone and ability to impact the game at a high level. Thanks to the great folks in the Hurricanes organization, I was able to interview Suzuki to talk about this past season, the return to play, and more!
What did you do to pass the time during these past few months?
I’ve been hanging out with my brother a lot. It was nice to be around family since we don’t get to see them a lot during the OHL season. It was nice to connect with everyone. You still get irritated with them since you’re in the house a lot more than you’re used to, but it’s fun.
This season was obviously a crazy season for you with a major injury and then a mid-season trade. What are some lessons you took away from it?
I think getting traded is always a weird thing. It happened to my brother the year before. Hockey is hockey everywhere you go, so it didn’t take me too long to adapt to a new team. I learned that Saginaw was a tight group that had a lot of chemistry and I was put in the lineup that same night. It was a great experience to get going right away.
How long did it take for you to adjust to Saginaw’s system?
Both Saginaw and Barrie want to play quick hockey. With Saginaw we get a lot of video work. They worked with me one on one, as well as with every other player. A lot of OHL teams have started to handle things the same way that NHL teams are developing their players now, so it was an easier transition.
Which area of your game did you focus on improving the most this season?
I’m a pass-first guy and I’d over-pass at times in the past. This season, I tried to look for a shooting opportunity more often as opposed to focusing on the pass. I also wanted to work on my play with the puck on my stick so that I could have more options in the offensive zone to create opportunities for offense.
I’d love to talk to you about your support for the Hockey Diversity Alliance and what that means for you. What are some changes that you’d like to see within the sport of hockey?
For me, I’ve had a great experience while playing hockey. Some people can’t say the same thing, but I’ve never felt out of place while playing hockey. Hockey is an expensive sport and not everyone can afford it right now, so making it more accessible to lower income families would be a huge step. Putting ice rinks around the world is another change I’d like to see. I’m not totally sure what changes need to happen since I’ve had a great experience, but I do know that the sport needs to be more diverse.
What was it like getting the call about the return to play from the organization? How exciting has it been to be back on the ice?
I got the call about a month ago and my dad predicted it a few months before it actually happened. He said that I would have to start getting into game shape just in case I got the call. I was prepared just in case and I was super excited to get the call. My dad was really proud, and I felt like I was ready to go.
I think it was disappointing that the season didn’t continue because we (Saginaw) were prepped for a long playoff run. There’s a huge change in pace from juniors to the pros, though. I got a taste of that in the preseason this past year. Saginaw runs a high-paced system sort of like Carolina’s which is nice. I wasn’t too far behind since I got some skating in with my brother and a few other guys. I think junior teams are trying harder to simulate what NHL teams are doing. You have to find what works for your team, but a lot of it is similar. Even though I’m not practicing on a line with the NHL team right now, it’s helping me prepare for the future.
For sure. Nick had a great year this year and when he finally made that team, everything he was doing to prepare himself for that season paid off. Seeing how hard he worked this past year showed me how hard you have to push yourself. You need to go the extra mile to get what you want, and seeing his hard work pay off inspires me to get to that point as well.
You were invited to Hockey Canada’s summer camp. How is that going to work with what is going on in the world right now?
I think as of right now, it’ll be a bunch of zoom calls. It’ll run through off-ice things and presentations to teach you what Hockey Canada expects from you. It’ll be a lot of video sessions, too, if I had to guess.
What are some of your goals for the upcoming NHL/OHL season when it gets underway?
I think that my first goal is to make the NHL team. It’s a challenge being a younger player and making it at 19. Most guys will spend another year in junior to mature their game. From my point of view, I want to be more reliable in both ends. I’m an offensive player and having that tool in your back pocket, to be good in your own end, is something I’d like to have. I’d like to lead the OHL in points if I go back and score more often than I have been. 40 goals is a nice goal for me to have.
We’ll have to see on that one. He’s got the NHL advantage right now. We’re both different players and both doing well, though. If you ask me, I’d say I’m better and if you ask him, he’ll say that he’s better.
Finally, Steven Lorentz told me that you’re working on getting the Damascus camo in Call of Duty. How’s that coming along?
It’s going well. I only have to get a few more launchers to gold and then I should get it. It’s a grind, for sure.
Thank you to everyone for questions, and thank you to Ryan and the Hurricanes for making this happen!