Center Pius Suter providing Red Wings with efficiency, productivity
Detroit — The Chicago Blackhawks have to be kicking themselves.
Playing against forward Pius Suter, who Chicago declined to re-sign last summer only to see the Red Wings swoop in and acquire in free agency, has to be frustrating.
Suter has done for the Red Wings what he did for the Blackhawks last season: provide an efficient, consistent level of play at both ends of the rink.
"When we signed Sutes 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."
Suter entered Wednesday's game against his former team with nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points, in 42 games. He's played on both specialty teams, centered the second line, and been a shrewd pickup. The Wings signed Suter, 25, to a two-year contract worth $6.5 million ($3.25 million cap hit per season) last summer.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable,” Suter said. “I’ve been playing better, maybe not producing as much (as liked) on the stat sheet, but I definitely took a step forward from last year and during this (season).”
Suter had 14 goals and 13 assists (27 points) in 55 games with the Blackhawks. He often centered a line with star winger Patrick Kane, and was a useful, dependable part for the Blackhawks in his first NHL season as an undrafted free agent.
But Chicago was intent on getting bigger names in the offseason, and were unsure about committing to Suter, who could have been a restricted free agent.
Not having gone through an NHL offseason before, Suter wasn't sure to expect. But the lack of interest from the Blackhawks was jarring.
“You can tell (from the direction of) talks, and, with time, you can tell what might be happening,” Suter said. “But I didn’t know the NHL that well. I knew the information, but I’d never experienced an offseason. I was, in the end, a little bit surprised.”
Suter was excited to land with the Wings — he played junior hockey with his current linemates Tyler Bertuzzi and Robby Fabbri — and has impressed with his grit and tenacity for a 5-foot-11, 175-pound center.
"He’s not afraid at all," Blashill said. "He gives away some pounds for sure, and 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, and he’s done a good job of that."
Last weekend's losses to Dallas and Nashville, and the different ways the Wings failed to get victories, were signs of a young team still learning how to close out games and capitalize on game-changing opportunities.
Forward Sam Gagner noted how many Wings are still learning the ups-and-downs of a grueling, 82-game NHL schedule.
"It’s a tough thing for a young group like we have,” Gagner said. "Most of the guys haven’t been through an 82-game season and everything that comes with that. There’s so many different situations that are firsts for guys. Our West Coast trip and coming back and playing right away, those are tough games and not something that guys have done very often.
"You learn as you go along. We’re building and we just have got to keep going in that direction and hopefully the results start to come.”
February was going to be nearly a month off for most NHL players, given the league was planning to participate in the Winter Olympics.
But with COVID ravaging the NHL schedule, the league and players' association pulled out of going to China, and instead more than 100 postponed games will now be played in what were going to be open February dates.
For the likes of rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, this coming month will be a good thing, Blashill said.
As Gagner mentioned, most young players have never gone through an NHL season. In February, there will be ample time to rest. The Wings only have seven games.
"It's positive, probably for a lot of people, to regroup, and for two young players that haven't played as many games as this," Blashill said. "In Raymond's case, and in Seids' case, how hard it is every single night. We have to make sure we're playing close attention to their ice time."
Blashill said the two rookies may have played too much last weekend, although Seider had to play more because of an injury to Gustav Lindstrom during the Nashville game and Raymond saw more minutes because of Wings' power-play chances.
Blashill said there were positive reports from Griffins coach Ben Simon on forward Gemel Smith, who went to Grand Rapids to knock rust off after not having played in months. The Wings claimed Smith off waivers last week.
"It had been a long time since he played and he definitely looked more comfortable in the second game," Blashill said. "The point of going down there was to get some game experience. We'll see what the immediate future brings."
... Blashill said goaltender Thomas Greiss (COVID protocol) would be eligible to begin practicing Thursday.