After Suter’s early season struggles, Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher took his $98 Million defenseman aside and told him he wasn’t Superman. Clearly Mr. Fletcher can’t see the future because, 17 games later, the 7th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft leads Minnesota in scoring with 23 points and is the Western Conference’s highest scoring defenseman. It may be too early to tell, but many fans would agree that the twin signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter may be the best thing that ever has or ever will happen to the Wild outside of winning a Cup.
Suter has been the undisputed leader on the Wild blue line with two goals and 21 assists—good for first in team scoring and 14 points ahead of former University of Wisconsin teammate Tom Gilbert in scoring from the blue line. While Suter is a negative-3 rating, it comes with the territory of playing nearly half a game, every game, as Minnesota’s top defenseman. In fact, his average ice time of 27:16 is first in the entire NHL.
What’s been encouraging to watch in Suter’s game is his composure with and without the puck. He plays a deceptively simple game, while making great outlet passes and elite plays at both ends of the ice. The guy is Minnesota’s defensive leader, and has no doubt improved the game of his defensive partner Jonas Brodin as much—or more—as Brodin has improved his. Together, these two form one of the deadliest defensive pairings in the game today, and it’s only going to get better as Brodin continues to develop into the elite blue liner that Minnesota drafted him to be. It’s this strong pairing that will form the backbone of Minnesota’s defensive corps that will get stronger with the arrival of 2012 7th overall pick Mathew Dumba.
What has also been encouraging is seeing the way Suter is beginning to shoot the puck more. The guy has broken more than one stick in the past few games while unloading a stunning and unexpected slap shot from the point. If Minnesota’s top pairing can dial in their slappers—and it looks like they are in the process of doing so—they could be just as deadly offensively as they are defensively. Suter’s time on the power play has also been important to Minnesota’s success, considering both of his goals have come off blistering slappers from the point on the man advantage, and a third (7) of his 21 assists have also come on the power play.
With Minnesota in the midst of an extremely tight race for the playoffs that, with one loss, could drop them from 3rd to 9th in the conference, they’re going to need their No. 1 defenseman to be on the top of his game with just 21 games to go. The Wild brass knew they were getting one of the best defensemen in the league when they signed Suter on July 4th, will he finally receive the hardware to prove it at the NHL’s 2013 Las Vegas Awards? At this point, I think it would be fair to say he certainly deserves to be amongst the top three finalists. Will he win the Norris? The odds are admittedly on his side at the moment—no other defenseman has been so important to their team’s success this season, and the current leading defensive scorer (Kris Letang, PIT) is out with an injury. If he keeps going at the rate he’s going, the Norris could be headed to Minnesota for the first time in Wild history. Wild fans certainly hope so.