DALLAS — Ryan Suter prefers to let his play do most of the talking, and what it’s been saying is that he is having a monumental impact on the fortunes of the Minnesota Wild this season.
In his first year in Minnesota after seven in Nashville, the Madison, Wis. native has raised his game to a new level over the past 20 or so games, and in the process, he has helped spur his club on to impressive heights.
With three goals and 19 points over 17 outings through April 1, which roughly coincided with a Wild hot streak of 15-5-0 over 20 contests, including a seven-game winning streak, Suter has thrust his name into consideration for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.
But while everyone notices the offensive production, Suter has quietly been playing strong defense all along.
“I remember the first 10 games having to answer a lot of questions about [Suter not reaching expected heights], and at the time I was thinking, ‘Man, this guy is playing well,’” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. “But since then, I’ve seen a whole new level. He was still playing well at that time, but since that point, he’s been nothing short of great.”
Suter and center Zach Parise, a Minneapolis native, signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts to join the Wild last summer. Expectations were high in the “State of Hockey” right out of the gate.
“I think he’s played well all season,” Parise said. “I think now everyone’s seeing the offensive production and unfortunately, that’s what everyone looks at sometimes, but he’s been playing well all season for us. With the amount that he plays and all the situations that he plays in, we’re pretty lucky to have him. He’s really been playing well lately.”
For his part, Suter admitted that it took him some time to feel completely comfortable in his new surroundings, taking some time to make the adjustment from the more defensive-minded Predators.
“Early on, it was a little different trying to get used to new systems; everything was new, and it’s gotten a lot easier,” said the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Suter, who at 28 is just entering his prime years. “Our team is playing a lot better, and we have a good thing going right now.”
Wild assistant coach Darryl Sydor can relate to Suter’s situation. During his 17-year career as an NHL defenseman, Sydor changed teams seven times, including three different stints in Dallas.
“I’ve been in the situation where you go to a new team and you have to learn new things. It takes some time, and it did,” Sydor said. “But now you see that he’s relishing it, and he’s a guy with an open mind, he makes his teammates better. He’s just a simple guy that goes out, does his business, and right now, he’s doing a great job of that.”
Further illustrating Suter’s impact on the Wild: besides co-leading NHL defensemen with 28 points and 25 assists, he also topped the entire league in ice time, averaging 27:18 per game, not to mention pacing the Wild with 48 blocked shots.
So just how important has his addition been to the Wild?
“There’s a number of things,” Yeo said. “He’s helped just the overall confidence of our team, just by the way he goes out and plays. He’s just such a great leader for us, the way he prepares, the way he comes out and plays every night, the consistency he has. Every night with him, it’s something different that jumps out at you.
“One night it’s going to be his defensive play, the next night it’s going to be his execution and his puck work. He’s a guy that’s just so valuable in so many different ways.”
Suter has also been a highly appreciated presence on Team USA’s blue line in multiple international competitions over the course of his career, beginning with his time in the U.S. National Team Development Program from 2001-03.
“It helps you grow up, definitely, living away from your family and kind of on your own,” said Suter, who was Nashville’s first-round draft choice, seventh overall, in 2003 before spending a year at the University of Wisconsin. “It definitely helps you grow up. It’s just like playing juniors, and it was a great experience.”
Suter also represented the United States at three different World Junior Championships (2003-05), helping Team USA win gold for the first time in 2004, while also skating at the World Championships in 2005, ’06, ’07, and ’09.
Of course, the biggest stage he’s played on with the national team was as part of the 2010 Olympic team that won silver in Vancouver, when he recorded four assists in six games.
“It’s a huge honor, it’s always a lot of fun to wear the USA on your sweater and to play with guys that you don’t get to play with that often,” said Suter, whose father Bob was a member of the legendary 1980 U.S. Olympic squad that won gold at Lake Placid. “It’s a lot of fun playing with other Americans.”
If the NHL players participate in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, there’s little doubt Suter will be heavily relied upon to help anchor the U.S. defense. He’s looking forward to the challenge and feeling good about the Americans’ chances.
“USA Hockey is definitely doing a good job developing players, and every tournament that USA Hockey has participated in, I think the chances of winning are good,” Suter said. “I expect no differently there.”
The same could be said of the Wild’s prospects, now that Suter is patrolling their blue line.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.