Entering training camp in Raleigh, Jack Drury, who has appeared in 53 career games for the Hurricanes, and Vasily Ponomarev were expected to be the frontrunners for the 4C spot.
Ponomarev suffered a minor knee injury on the first day of camp, creating an even bigger window for another Carolina draft pick, Ryan Suzuki, to stake his claim to a spot in the lineup.
Suzuki impressed during the Southeast Rookie Showcase, finding the back of the net on three separate occasions and tallying one assist. During the shootout sessions at the end of each contest, Suzuki consistently beat the goaltenders in his path, showing promise in an area he once claimed was a weakness.
He was selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Hurricanes, but has seen his career hampered by injuries in the early going. He has appeared in 110 games over the last three seasons with the Chicago Wolves, but could his time in Raleigh be closer than expected?
The 22-year old certainly made his case over Carolina’s first two preseason contests, displaying his touted playmaking ability and guiding the reigning Metro Division champions to a 2-0 record.
After the Hurricanes evened the score at one-apiece early in the third period on Wednesday, Suzuki took matters into his own hands. He circled around the Florida net, contemplating a dish to Brendan Perlini, before firing a rocket into the top right corner to give Carolina the lead for good.
What a shot! 🎯 pic.twitter.com/tzIn4x2B3V
— Walt Ruff (@WaltRuff) September 28, 2023
Regardless of the goal being shown in GIF or video form, it is clear that was a goal was the product of a shot not every prospect can execute.
Suzuki’s reputation as an offensive forward was evident on the goal, but the decision-making in the process is not to be understated. A high hockey IQ and the ability to process his surroundings gives high hopes for his future in Raleigh.
Even when he was not looking to set up teammates or making something happen on the offensive end, Suzuki was aggressive and all over the ice, pressuring Florida on both ends.
The younger brother of Canadiens’ center Nick Suzuki has a high upside offensively and could even fit in as a top-six forward in the future, but defensively, he may be at the bottom of the totem pole in relation to the likes of Ponomarev and Jamieson Rees. Both Ponomarev and Rees have a chance to cement themselves on the roster, but Suzuki has gotten off to a strong start between the Southeast Rookie Showcase and Carolina’s first two preseason contests.
Many eyes in Raleigh and around the NHL are on the Hurricanes’ situation on defense, where three NHL-caliber defensemen are fighting for one spot among the team’s blue liners.
But, lineup and position battles among the forwards are something to monitor as we sit two weeks out from opening night.
At most, three preseason contests remain for Suzuki and if he continues to impress, he very well could find himself in Raleigh on Oct. 11.