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How did Pius Suter’s rookie season compare to other European free agents?

Let’s take a look at how the center compares to previous European imports.

Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings”n

The Blackhawks have been relying on their excellent European scouting department for a handful of years now to help fill holes in the roster. Not all of them have been successful and very few have actually stayed with the Blackhawks organization for long, but there is no denying they’ve lured over some gems to North America. In his rookie season, Pius Suter looks like he could be one of the success stories, so let’s break down how he compared to other European free agents who signed with Chicago.

To keep this simple, we’ll focus primarily on points and underlying trends that feed into point production of those who played a majority of a season’s games with the Blackhawks — so Dominik Kubalik, Dominik Kahun, and Artemi Panarin. Other players may be mentioned to give context.

Blackhawks European FAs

Player Season Age Games Played Points per Game TOI All TOI 5v5 Points per 60 All Points per 60 5v5 WAR QOC QOT PDO
Player Season Age Games Played Points per Game TOI All TOI 5v5 Points per 60 All Points per 60 5v5 WAR QOC QOT PDO
Suter 2020-21 24 55 0.49 16:20 13:55 1.8 1.57 1.1 82% 93% 99.5
Kubalik 2019-20 24 68 0.68 14:22 11:56 2.82 2.59 1.8 72% 62% 100.8
Kahun 2018-19 23 82 0.45 14:09 12:41 1.91 1.9 1 51% 58% 102.1
Panarin 2015-16 24 80 0.96 18:30 14:46 3.12 2.08 2.9 86% 89% 100.2

Let’s start with time-on-ice and quality of competition, which tells an interesting story about coaches’ trust. Obviously Panarin was in a class of his own and got first line-minutes, but more importantly, he played completely under a different coach. It’s likely that Panarin would have played a similar number of minutes under Jeremy Colliton, but there’s no guarantee so we’ll focus on the latter three.

It’s clear that Suter earned Colliton’s trust much quicker than either Dominik did. Some of that is likely due to the lack of center options with both Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach out this season, but Suter still had to wrest that top-line center role from veterans Dylan Strome and David Kampf. Considering Colliton’s reluctance to give rookies high minutes to start and the latter is a Colliton-favorite, that wasn’t an easy feat. As a result of that trust, Suter’s 13:55 TOI at 5-on-5 was two-minutes or more than what Kubalik or Kahun played their rookie years, and Suter did that while facing easily the highest quality of competition among the three.

However, none of these three ever really hit top-line minutes consistently, even though Suter and Kubalik both played regularly with top-line players. Compared to the rest of the league, Suter’s TOI put him roughly in the second-line category despite essentially being the top-center for a majority of the season while Kahun and Kubalik got third-line minutes. While there were times when Suter was relegated to a lower line, those moments didn’t last long and Suter spent almost 90 percent of his time with either DeBrincat, Kane, or both. Kahun’s playing time was also fairly consistent throughout the season — he played a little more towards the end of his rookie season when paired with Artem Anisimov and Brandon Saad — while Kubalik split his time in the bottom-six with David Kampf and on the top-line with Jonathan Toews. Arguably, Kubalik would have even higher point totals if he’d been moved up the lineup sooner.

Although position necessity definitely played a role in Suter playing more minutes than the other two, it’s also pretty clear based on the consistency of TOI given and QoC faced that Suter earned the trust of the coaching staff quicker than the other European rookies.

In terms of actual point production and shot stats, though, Suter performed much closer to Kahun than to Kubalik or Panarin. There’s nothing wrong with that, either — an almost 0.5 PPG rate with positive shot trends is very respectable for a rookie season, especially when you consider Suter often played third-wheel to DeBrincat and Kane. Normally playing with the best offensive players on the team would be a boost, but DeBrincat and Kane were pretty monogamous for a majority of the season. Suter factored directly into about 50 percent of his primary linemates production at 5-on-5 while they both factored into over 80 percent of each other’s production. Suter actually factored in slightly more away from DeBrincat and Kane: he had an individual point percentage of near 59 for the season at 5-on-5.

On top of that, both DeBrincat and Kane want to have the puck as much as possible, leaving less time for Suter to contribute to shots and chances on an individual level while Kubalik was the primarily shot-producer on any line he was on.

In comparison at 5-on-5, the other European free-agent rookies under Colliton individual points percentage was the following:

  • Kubalik directly factored into about 73 percent of all goals when on the ice as well as roughly 82 percent when with Toews and 89 percent when with Kane.
  • Kahun directly factored into about 65 percent of all goals when on the ice as well as roughly 71 percent when with Debrincat and 68 percent when with Toews.

So despite being in the 93rd percentile in the league in terms of quality of teammate and well above the Dominiks overall, Suter didn’t benefit as much as you expect from his offensively elite linemates on the scoresheet.

Artem Anisimov had a similar issue when paired with Panarin and Kane but Strome did not when paired with DeBrincat and Kane. Since Kane is the common denominator for these lines, below are the numbers for Kane’s other centers in recent years.

Kane Centers

Player Season Age Games Played Points per Game TOI All TOI 5v5 Points per 60 All Points per 60 5v5 WAR QOC QOT PDO
Player Season Age Games Played Points per Game TOI All TOI 5v5 Points per 60 All Points per 60 5v5 WAR QOC QOT PDO
Anisimov 2015-16 27 77 0.56 18:05 13:47 1.81 1.36 1.3 87% 96% 100.7
Strome 2019-20 22 58 0.66 15:56 12:35 2.47 2.3 0.8 58% 85% 101.8

To note, I used the 2015-16 and 2019-20 seasons because Anisimov and Strome were with Kane most consistently those seasons versus others. The center’s individual points percentage at 5-on-5 broke down as following:

  • Anisimov directly factored into about 48 percent of Panarin-Kane production and 52 percent total for the season in 2015-16.
  • Strome directly factored into about 81 percent when with Kane-Debrincat and 78 percent total for the season in 2019-20.

So in terms of points per game and direct contribution, Suter fared more similarly to Anisimov than Strome. Anisimov was 0.06 better than Suter overall, but Suter was better when it came to points per 60 at 5-on-5 (1.57 vs 1.36) despite playing practically the same amount of minutes and on a lower quality Blackhawks team overall. Strome outpaced Suter in terms of points-per-game and points-per-60 but faced much lower quality of competition and was overall skewed more offensively. Also, we know from this past season that while Suter may not have been an ideal top-line center, he handled the assignment better than Strome did overall.

Now, obviously more than points goes into contributions on the ice, but there is a clear divide on how centers on Kane’s lines have been used.

All of this suggests the following to me:

  • Suter had a respectable rookie season but it was not in a tier with Kubalik or Panarin.
  • If Suter remains at center or moves to wing, he’ll likely be as good or more productive in a lower-line role with linemates that would use him more regularly, even if those linemates are lower quality.
  • Suter’s ability to play up-and-down the lineup and at wing or center makes him especially useful moving forward.

Ultimately, no matter the role Suter may have in the future, it’s clear that Suter was indeed another success for the Blackhawks European scouts, at least in a single-season sample. Hopefully Suter will be given an opportunity to repeat and/or improve on this performance next season.