The Blackhawks’ top three scorers this season are going to be Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik, in that order. Entering the season, it wouldn’t have been hard to predict that.
But it would’ve been significantly more difficult to foresee Pius Suter finishing fourth. Suter, with 24 points (including 13 goals) in 53 games, holds a two-point edge over Brandon Hagel entering the last two games of the Hawks’ season Sunday and Monday.
It’s not entirely shocking. Suter was named the most valuable player of the Swiss league last season, like Kubalik the season before, and was the Hawks’ biggest European free-agent addition last summer. But considering how unknown Suter was in North America before January, it would have fallen on the optimistic end of projections for his rookie season.
‘‘We had an idea of what he could potentially bring, but you never know how guys are going to react to the NHL and our team makeup,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said Saturday. ‘‘We tried him at center. He had played some center in the past, but we didn’t know how he’d respond doing it at the NHL level.’’
Suter reacted well, capably filling in on the first line and developing strong chemistry with Kane and DeBrincat during the months before Kirby Dach returned from his wrist injury.
Despite being a smaller guy at 5-9 and 176 pounds, Suter proved willing to establish position in front of the net, screen the goalie, find loose pucks and rebounds and convert at a high rate.
A remarkable 73% of his even-strength shots have been on goal, the highest rate on the team by far (the average for Hawks forwards is 62.3%). Suter also leads the team in expected goals per shot at .078, beating the team average (.056) by an even greater margin in that category.
For the Hawks, who lose the quantity battle most games — they’re 28th in the league in even-strength shot attempt ratio, with even Suter below water in that regard at 47.7% — it’s important to have players who can maximize their chances, such as Suter, on the roster.
‘‘Defensively, [he has been] very responsible,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘He makes a lot of good reads. He’s found a way to produce at the same time, as well. He’s got to be pretty happy with his first year. Now it’s up to him to not be satisfied with it and continue to build on that.’’
Suter frequently has remarked about the many differences he has discovered between European and NHL hockey, from faceoffs to dump-and-chase techniques, long flights between cities and everything in between. Characteristically, he said last week he’ll take from this season his newfound experience with ‘‘how the games are played, [how] other teams play and [how to] find different ways to create and score.’’
This season sets him up for a raise this offseason, too. He’s in the rare situation of entering restricted free agency immediately after his rookie season. Hawks general manager Stan Bowman and Suter’s agent, Georges Muller, could have some interesting negotiations to try to determine Suter’s value.
Kubalik was an RFA last summer after only one NHL season and signed a two-year contract with a $3.7 million cap hit. But Kubalik’s rookie season was more explosive and impressive than Suter’s. Kubalik was a Calder Trophy finalist; Suter won’t be.
It would make sense for Suter’s 2021-22 cap hit to be in the $2 million to $2.5 million range, but Muller could argue it should be higher. It does sound as though Suter intends to re-sign, regardless.
‘‘I want to be back, for sure,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m confident they’ll figure something out. It’s going to [happen] in the summer. . . . Despite not making the playoffs, it’s been a fun year. And [I] definitely want to see the United Center in full capacity.’’