At the beginning of the season, Minnesota Wild fans were wondering how long it would take Ryan Suter to return to form.
Their $98 million defenseman was in a new city and playing in a different system without longtime defensive partner Shea Weber and the former Nashville Predator was minus-7 through the first 10 games of the season.
In fact, he did not register a positive plus-minus until the 12th game of the season, which was played against the Calgary Flames. Suter has played well recently, however, going plus-6 in his last 10 games.
While he has scored two goals and registered four assists during that span, his value to the team is hard to quantify. He does not tally as many points as other defensemen in the league nor does he make the highlight reel with devastating open-ice hits.
Suter is a responsible defenseman that plays nearly 30 minutes a night and rarely is out of position. He makes a living clearing players away from the front of the net and seldom takes a bad penalty.
It is the little things that add up for Suter, but he does them all well enough that he is deserving of the James Norris Memorial Trophy, which is given to the best all-around defenseman in the National Hockey League every year.
The following are the three biggest reasons why he should win the Norris this season.
He plays more minutes than any defenseman in the league
Suter is averaging 27:29 minutes per game this season. Not only is it a career high for the eight-year veteran, who played around 25 to 26 minutes per game in Nashville, but it is also more than every other defenseman in the NHL this year.
Defensemen tend to spend more time on the ice than everyone else—Ilya Kovalchuk is the only forward in the Top 50 and he takes really long shifts—but they also play hard minutes. Suter is constantly in front of the net and in the corners trying either to prevent a player from screening his goaltender or separate opponents from the puck.
The fact that the Wild, a team with playoff aspirations, plays Suter for so much of the game tells you how much faith they have in him and how much he means to his team.
He has been a good influence on Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon
Brodin is playing more minutes than any other rookie in the league and he is 19 years old.
To be fair, part of this is that the Wild are playing their top pair most of the time that they are at even strength, but if Brodin were not playing well they would put somebody else at Suter’s side. Clayton Stoner, Tom Gilbert, Justin Falk or Spurgeon could all be placed on the top defensive pair if Brodin wasn’t keeping up.
Furthermore, the team had Charlie Coyle, another rookie, on their top line and replaced him with Jason Pominville at the trade deadline. Coyle was playing well, but the team felt they needed an upgrade.
This was not so with Brodin.
On the power play, Suter often plays with Spurgeon, a 5’9” defenseman who fits the mold of former Wild blueliner Marc-Andre Bergeron. He’s a player who offers a hard shot from the point and skates quickly, but he needs a defensive partner who can set him up. Suter has done just that, allowing Spurgeon to one-time the puck with traffic in front of the net.
He is a threat on the power play
It should come as no surprise that Suter thrives on the penalty kill: He’s a strong defenseman who is able to move players from in front of the net and is rarely out of position.
What is unique about Suter is that he’s a defensive-defenseman and an asset on the power play. While many teams will play with four forwards and a scoring blueliner, the Wild have Suter quarterback the power play—a role typically reserved for an offensive defenseman or a forward.
He’s not only moving the puck on the power play; the defenseman is also getting in on the scoring as well. Ten of Suter’s 25 assists this season have come with a man up, but so have three of his four goals.
Suter’s versatility is the reason he is able to play nearly 30 minutes every night. He can play in even strength, power play and penalty kill situations and as an alternate captain he is a mentor to younger players in the locker room.
There’s no doubt that the Zach Parise signing was huge for the Wild and everyone knows about the young talent in Minnesota, but the playoffs would not be returning to the State of Hockey if Suter was not on this team.
He has been the most well rounded defenseman in the league this year and is deserving of the Norris Trophy.