One of the foremost examples of how the Nashville Predators are able to develop quality NHL defensemen, Ryan Suter is entering his prime hockey-playing years having wrapped up his fifth season with the Preds.
#20 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Jan 21, 1985
Contract: Signed through 2011-12 at $3.5 million/year, then UFA
|Projection||82||12||40||52||Continuing to mature as a top-level defenseman.|
|Actual||82||4||33||37|| 2nd on team in assists, tops in average TOI with 23:58/game
|Playoff||6||0||0||0||Led Preds' defensemen with 16 shots on goal.|
Follow after the jump as we break down Ryan's season and see where he's headed for the Nashville Predators...
Silver in Vancouver
Certainly the most memorable experience of Ryan's year had to be the Olympics in Vancouver, where he earned some long-overdue recognition by playing a key role in Team USA's silver medal. He led the team in several important categories (assists & ice time, for example) and provided the safety net which allowed Brian Rafalski to step up and contribute offensively.
Even Strength Play - "Steady As She Goes"
Suter's game is all about managing the pace of the play and getting the offense rolling out of the Nashville end. He doesn't make the spectacular highlight plays like a Dan Hamhuis hip check or Shea Weber slap shot, but there are few blueliners who carry the puck from end to end more confidently than Suter.
His 0.78 Points/60 minutes in 5-on-5 ranked him 83rd out of 198 regular defensemen. Most of that (0.45) is of the "secondary assist" variety, which underscores Suter's ability to help get Nashville into the offensive zone, but not necessarily play a large role in goal scoring once they're on the attack.
Over at SB Nation's New Jersey Devils blog, In Lou We Trust, John Fischer took an interesting angle to identify defensive performance, which I'll mimic here. The basic idea is to compare Shots Against rates when a given player is on the ice, as opposed to what it's like when he's on the bench. Among 132 regular defensemen (minimum 40 games, 10 minutes of 5-on-5 per game), here's where Suter ranked...
|Ryan Suter 5-on-5 Advanced Stats from Behind the Net|
|SF On/60||SF Off/60||SF Diff||SA On/60||SF Off/60||SA Diff|
|28.8||26.6||+2.2 (25th)||27.2||25.9||+1.3 (91st)|
|Corsi On||Corsi Off||Relative Corsi||+/- On/60||+/- Off/60||Rating|
|+6.72||+1.44||+5.3 (39th)||+0.16||+0.03||+0.14 (78th)|
In a nutshell, both Shots For & Against rates went up when Suter was on the ice, but the overall shift was a positive one for Nashville. He played 18:51 at evens per game, and was able to keep his head above water. That's no mean feat, and his basic Plus/Minus result of +3 is a big improvement over last season's -16.
In addition, he attained this high level of play while also reducing his penalties taken. Suter's 48 Penalty Minutes was a career low, and that's not a sign that he was playing soft physically, but rather not getting caught out of position and having to haul opponents down to the ice.
|Ryan Suter's penalties, last 3 seasons|
|Delaying Game-Puck over glass||1||1||2|
|Holding the stick||2||1||3|
Notice the penalties for Holding, Hooking, Interference, and Tripping? All have taken big drops over the last three seasons. If anything, he's getting nastier, as his 6 Cross-Checking calls were tied for the league lead. Suter's work here was part of an overall trend that saw Nashville drop its team Penalty Minutes from 982 to 669 this season.
Interestingly, at Even Strength it's hard to separate Suter's performance from that of Shea Weber, because of the frequency with which those two played together. Out of the 1,575 Shots On Goal For & Against that Suter was on the ice for at even strength this season, Weber was also on the ice for 1,266 of those (80%). Might it make sense to split up that pair, and let Suter anchor a pairing of his own?
All in all, Suter makes for a fine Top 4 defenseman. He can play consistently against any opponent, and handles himself physically without leaving his team shorthanded. He's also incredibly durable, having played the full 82-game schedule for the third time in his five seasons.
On the power play, his 2.85 Points/60 minutes in 5-on-4 play ranked 59 out of 78 defensemen who saw regular duty there; while one can say that the team's overall lousy PP work drags his numbers down, since Suter is one of the key components there (3rd on the team in PP TOI/game), he shoulders a good portion of the blame. To his credit, the Preds did score more often (5.93/60 minutes) when he was on the ice as opposed to when he was off (4.40), but Suter seems more like a supporting player on the PP, rather than a real driver of performance.
Suter's 7.78 Goals Against/60 minutes in 4-on-5 play was not a pleasant sight, and pretty typical of Nashville's awful PK this season. His numbers fit squarely in the middle of the overall team results there, so it's hard to make the case that he was dragged down by his teammates. He was 3rd on the Nashville defense in shorthanded ice time, so plays a major role there.
Ryan continues to develop his game at the NHL level, and his ability to effectively play heavy minutes against top opponents makes him a valuable commodity. At 25 years of age, there is perhaps a bit of offensive upside remaining as well. Whether he can help lead the Nashville power play out of the doldrums is one of the big questions surrounding this team in 2010-11. If not, it will be interesting to see if any of the young offensive blueliners in the organization can compete for his PP ice time.