Pius Suter sticking in sizable role as Blackhawks zero in on roster
The Hawks’ lines in practice Saturday were pretty close to what they’ll be for the season opener, and Suter — the team’s newest European import — remained in a notable top-nine role.
Blackhawks assistant Marc Crawford is the czar of training camp. Coach Jeremy Colliton technically is his boss, but it’s Crawford who coordinates many of the drills Hawks players skate through each day.
And forward Pius Suter is thankful for that.
Suter, the Swiss league’s leading scorer last season and the latest overage European import the Hawks wooed across the Atlantic, came to Chicago knowing nothing about his new home and practically no one in the organization. He has resorted to taking walks around Chicago — yes, in January — to get accustomed to his new city.
But he knows Crawford very well. The well-traveled coach was in his fourth and final season coaching Zurich SC when Suter joined the team as a rookie in 2015-16, and Crawford played a pivotal role in launching Suter’s career as one of Switzerland’s biggest hockey stars.
Five years later, the 24-year-old Suter not only remains close with Crawford but also remembers the way he ran practices in Zurich. And those memories have proved extremely useful.
‘‘Especially the drills, some of them I actually know,’’ Suter said, chuckling. ‘‘It’s nice to know the drills sometimes. And, of course, it helps to know some people here already. [They] give some tips, as well, and [help me] be more familiar with it.’’
Suter still might be getting acclimated in many regards, but he already is holding down a sizable role in the Hawks’ coming-into-focus lineup.
Colliton redistributed the team’s two practice groups Saturday, and the new Group A provided a relatively clear picture of the lines the Hawks might deploy in their season opener Wednesday.
Blackhawks' lines and pairings today. Could be close to the Opening Night lineup:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) January 9, 2021
(Extras: Johnson, Kurashev)
Subban & Delia
At forward, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane were on the first line; Brandon Pirri, Lucas Wallmark and Dominik Kubalik were on the second; Mattias Janmark, Suter and Andrew Shaw were on the third; and Matthew Highmore, David Kampf and Ryan Carpenter were on the fourth.
On defense, Duncan Keith and Connor Murphy were the first pair; Calvin de Haan and Ian Mitchell were the second; and Nicolas Beaudin and Adam Boqvist were the third.
Afterward, Colliton pointed out nothing was set in stone, so those lines might change somewhat. And there are absent players to account for. Carl Soderberg likely will take Pirri’s spot when he arrives, and Nikita Zadorov likely will take Beaudin’s spot when he returns. (Colliton did name Beaudin the most pleasant surprise of camp, though.)
Suter, who consistently has occupied a slot on the second or third line throughout camp, seems pretty secure. The Hawks also have used him as the net-front guy on their second power-play unit.
Colliton said he doesn’t see Suter’s unfamiliarity with the smaller North American rink as a big issue, either.
‘‘Some guys who come over, they play a perimeter game, so when there’s not as much room out there, they find it tough,’’ he said. ‘‘But that’s not the case with Suter. He likes to be inside, likes to be around the net.
‘‘We move him around a little bit, center and wing, and that’s part of the package he brings. Part of why we like him and part of why he might get an opportunity further up the lineup [is] because he is versatile. So far, we’re pleased with what we see.’’
Suter brings a goal-scoring touch and an eagerness to score ‘‘dirty’’ goals the Hawks largely lack. Those traits contributed to Kubalik’s breakout last season, and Suter has followed a fairly similar path. The two used to play each other often in Swiss matchups.
Now Suter must prove he can transfer his skills to the NHL.
‘‘I’ve been waiting awhile, so it’s exciting,’’ Suter said. ‘‘Just nice to be here and get it started, finally.’’