By Tom Hunter (@)
Over the past few year, there has been a philosophy that is becoming popular in the mainstream when it comes to draft eligible prospects – that a player’s birthday matters. Many scouts and draft analysts believe that a prospect with a late birthdate – June/July/August – have a higher potential to develop simply because they are younger.
ESPN’s Corey Pronman – who is one of the biggest proponents of the theory – wrote about it during last year’s draft cycle:
Since I started doing work in the hockey prospect arena, the issue of late-birthdate prospects confounded me. After years of dealing with prospects, and doing recent research on the matter, I am convinced it is one of the most important quantitative factors that can go into prospect evaluations.
The theory stems from the idea that players born late in the draft year (the draft cut off is September) are younger and thus have more potential to grow, both physically and mentally as a hockey player. Some take this theory more seriously than others – Pronman has cited Patrik Laine being younger for the reason he ranked him ahead fo Auston Matthews last year.
While Pronman helped bring the theory back to the discussion last year, it’s nothing new – Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the ‘hockey birthday bias’ in his 2008 book Outliers.
That brings us to Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack. Suzuki will be one of the youngest prospects in this year’s NHL entry draft – he won’t be 18 until two months after he’s drafted – and he has the potential to be a big-time sleeper in the 25-45 range.
Suzuki is a skilled center that is currently ranked outside of the first round on every major draft list – he is a B ranking from NHL Central Scouting and an honorable mention from Jeff Marek.
It seems a lot of draft analysts don’t see him as a potential first-round pick – but they probably should. Especially in a draft like this year that is weaker than the past few and will be a huge crap shoot after the top-2.
Suzuki scored 20 goals as a 16-year old rookie on a bad Owen Sound team last season. This year he’s taken a big leap and has been among one of the most exciting players through the first third of the OHL season.
His point production this season has been great for a player his age. Suzuki currently sits 14th in the OHL with 20 primary points (10 Gs and 10 A1) in 21 games. His 24 total points rank him tied with Owen Tippett for 7th among all draft eligible players in the CHL.
Suzuki his a highly skilled center that is dynamic every time he touches the puck. His calling card is his vision and passing ability. He has the playmaking skill to create scoring chances for his teammates and has likely had his assist totals hampered by his team’s reliance on him to create his own offense. He is a well above average skater that moves around the ice well and is dangerous offensively on almost every shift.
This season, he is showing the ability to be a goal scorer as well as the team’s primary playmaker. He has the capability to think quickly and sense the difference between a scoring chance for himself and one for his linemate – something you don’t always see from elite passers in junior.
At 5’11 and 180lbs, there will be talk that Suzuki doesn’t have ‘ideal size’ to play center at the NHL level. That talk should be dismissed as nothing more than old school scouts perpetuating their ‘big center’ philosophy. The way he skates and sees the ice, Suzuki is perfectly fit to play down the middle of the ice.
Suzuki is looking like one of those players that gets drafted young only to take off in his draft +1 seasons. Being only 17 through the draft, the potential for growth is huge, especially for a player with his raw skills.
He was very fun to watch when Owen Sound came through Oshawa at the beginning of the month. Those who watch him more frequently than I and have been tracking his progress talk about how he gets more impressive every time they watch him play – especially when you consider how young the key players on Owen Sound are.
He’s likely to end up on a bunch of top-31 lists by the time the draft rolls around, with those like Pronman who put emphasis on late birth dates having him ranked higher than others. Playing in Owen Sound could keep him off the radar of casual observers and as a result, Suzuki is a bit of a sleeper this year. He probably shouldn’t be. He has the talent and growth potential to be looked at as a legitimate high-end prospect.