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Stu Cowan: Canadiens Nick Suzuki adapting to life as an NHL rookie

Stu Cowan: Canadiens  Nick Suzuki adapting to life as an NHL rookie
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The 20-year-old has played in all 47 games with the Canadiens this season, posting 9-18-27 totals and a minus-6 while averaging 15:32 of ice time heading into Wednesday’s matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). Suzuki has been used at centre, on the wing, on the power play, killing penalties and in overtime.

The kid has clearly earned the trust of coach Claude Julien.

Suzuki has made the jump directly from junior to the NHL after helping the Guelph Storm win the OHL championship last season and earning the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the playoff MVP, posting 16-26-42 totals in 24 games.

“I feel like a lot of people didn’t really expect me to make the team,” Suzuki said after the Canadiens practised Tuesday in Brossard. “But I felt confident in myself. I knew there would be spots available and I just had to show the coaches I could be one of those guys. I think power play, just being an offensive guy kind of helped me into the lineup. With injuries, I’ve been given more responsibilities and the coaches have seen that I can contribute.”

Off the ice, Suzuki is living alone for the first time and enjoying it. He’s staying in an Old Port condo and said he learned how to cook some easy meals for himself last summer without a lot of ingredients, knowing he would either be living in Montreal or Laval this season if he was sent to the AHL’s Rocket. His go-to meal is pasta.

“Just getting groceries, making my own food, doing everything that my billet families and my mom and dad always did,” Suzuki said. “It’s different. I like the challenge. I always knew that I was going to be moving away and living on my own, so it’s been fun. I can definitely handle myself, for sure. This is my job now and I have to treat it as such and you have to be prepared every single day.”

Fellow rookie Cale Fleury, 21, recently moved into a nearby condo former Canadiens defenceman Mike Reilly had before being traded to the Ottawa Senators this month. Teammates Brendan Gallagher, Artturi Lehkonen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia also live nearby, so it’s easy for the players to get together and hang out on days off or share a ride to practice.

Fleury and Suzuki spend a lot of time together and the Canadiens recently posted a Habs Cribs video on their website offering a tour of Suzuki’s condo while Fleury was there.

“I felt better if someone was there instead of doing it alone,” Suzuki said.

Suzuki said the thing that has surprised him the most about life in the NHL is how the practices are shorter than in junior, but are run at a much faster pace.

“Just getting used to that and preparing,” Suzuki said. “Coming in early for practice and preparing for a hard skate. We have a great routine in the gym with workouts before practice or after games, stuff like that.”

Suzuki is feeling very comfortable now in the locker room with his teammates, but admitted he’s still a bit in awe of Russian star Ilya Kovalchuk, who joined the team this month as a free agent.

“I’ve been looking over at his stall, just kind of seeing what he’s doing,” Suzuki said with a little smile. “But every time I see Carey (Price) or Shea (Weber) I kind of think about where I am and how I came here.”

Suzuki is earning US$925,000 this season, according to CapFriendly.com , but said the only thing he has really splurged on for himself is a couple of nice suits from tailor/stylist Pellegrino Castronovo, who was recommended to him by TSN’s John Lu.

“There’s not much else,” Suzuki said. “Just paying rent and stuff. It’s pretty expensive here.”

In the Habs Cribs video, Fleury points out Suzuki’s new lucky suit and also his old lucky socks, which have holes in them.

Has Suzuki’s rookie season been everything he dreamed it would be as a kid growing up in London, Ont.?

“Yeah,” he said with another smile. “I’m just enjoying everything. Getting to travel on planes, being in Montreal, playing in all these awesome arenas in the NHL is something I’ve always dreamt of. It’s definitely living up to expectations and I’m just having a lot of fun being here.”
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