Canadiens’ Claude Julien praises intelligence of rookie Nick Suzuki

Claude Julien spoke about the huge impact Ilya Kovalchuk had during his short stint with the Montreal Canadiens.

Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki has been an intriguing rookie to watch this year. As the Canadiens continue to inject youth into their lineup, Suzuki has shown he belongs with the pros — just ask head coach Claude Julien.

Julien had plenty of praise for the 20-year-old during an interview on Hockey Central on Friday.

“I like Nick a lot,” Julien said. “He’s such an intelligent player, he sees the play well.”

Selected 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, Suzuki landed in Montreal’s prospect pool via the September 2018 trade that saw Max Pacioretty dealt to Vegas.

“I remember his first camp with us after we got him in that trade, and the one thing we had told him is to, ‘really work on the pace of your game because at this level you’re gonna need to take another step there,'” Julien said. “I watched some of his games in junior hockey and he’d already understood that and that’s why I thought he had a really, really good season his last year of junior.”

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Suzuki split that 2018-19 junior season between the Owen Sound Attack and the Guelph Storm, following up an impressive 94-point regular season with 16 goals and 42 points in 24 playoff games to help propel the Storm to OHL championship victory.

“He comes to us, plays it the right way, understands the game so well,” said Julien. “You know, you talk about an intelligent player and he’s one of those guys where, you tell him once and you don’t have to tell him two or three times — he gets it. So, I like that about him.”

Through 71 games this year with Montreal, the forward registered 13 goals and 41 points, good for sixth in points among rookies league-wide.

Like his team, Suzuki hit a few road blocks as the season wore on, unable to produce down the stretch at the rate he’d been scoring throughout much of the year. Julien believes the reason for the slow-down is simple: fatigue.

“The only thing that happened to Nick this year, and certainly not to his fault, is that I felt that in the last month he’d really started slowing down because of fatigue. And that fatigue wasn’t necessarily because of playing with us,” he said. “Obviously, the year before, he had played with the world juniors, he went to the Memorial Cup all the way to the end in May, development camp at the end of June, rookie camp, and then our main camp and everything else. I just think he played too much hockey, and it caught up to him. That’s what I think happened in the last month.

“It had absolutely nothing to do with his play, it had nothing to do with his intelligence,” Julien continued. “I just think he hit a wall, and rightfully so — I don’t know anybody else who wouldn’t hit a wall after playing that much.”

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