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Nick Suzuki feeling more comfortable as he climbs Canadiens' depth chart

 Canadiens rookie Nick Suzuki shoots the puck against Blues goalie Jake Allen at Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Sat., Oct. 19.
Canadiens rookie Nick Suzuki shoots the puck against Blues goalie Jake Allen at Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Sat., Oct. 19.

When Nick Suzuki was growing up in London, Ont., he was a fan of the London Knights and his favourite player was a feisty forward named Max Domi.

“I watched him the four years he was there and I liked the way he payed,” Suzuki said.

The 20-year-old Suzuki is getting to appreciate Domi’s talents first-hand because they have played on the same line this season and have also seen action together on the power play.

Coach Claude Julien has moved Suzuki up and down the lineup in his first nine games in the NHL and as the Canadiens prepared to face the San Jose Sharks at the Bell Centre Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS. TSN-690 Radio), he has Suzuki on a line with Domi and Artturi Lehkonen.

“All our lines play a similar style so it’s not a difficult adjustment,” said Suzuki, who most recently played on a line centred by Nate Thompson. “(The Domi line) may be a little more offensive, but we’re all trying to use our speed and move the puck.”

Suzuki, who was a first-round draft choice (No. 13 overall) of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, is making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL without the benefit of an intermediary stop in the AHL. He said he was aware the transition would be difficult, but he has handled the task in a professional manner.

There were obvious adjustments to the speed of the game and Suzuki noted there are no opportunities to take a night off.

“Every team we play is good,” he said. “That’s not the case in junior, where you play games against teams that may be rebuilding with younger players and you get an easy game.”

Suzuki has also had to adjust to changing roles in terms of position and ice time.

He had played on the wing on occasion in junior, but his natural position is centre. He said the biggest adjustment to playing on the wing involves moving the puck out of the defensive zone.

“Every team has a strong forecheck and they want to pressure you,” Suzuki said. “You have to be aware of that and move the puck quickly before the defence sets up.”

There’s also a different rhythm to the game. It wasn’t uncommon for Suzuki to play close to 30 minutes a game in junior. His ice time in the NHL is half that. But even when he was on the fourth line with Thompson, he received extra minutes on the power play and, more recently, Julien has used him to help shore up a penalty-killing unit that is among the worst in the NHL.

Suzuki was a scoring machine in junior hockey, but didn’t notch his first NHL goal until last Thursday against Minnesota — his seventh NHL game. He scored his second goal two days later in St. Louis.

Suzuki said the goals boosted his confidence and that he feels more comfortable every day.

“I think I can read the play much better,” he said. “I feel more comfortable out there. I’m starting to make plays and kind of be myself out there. I’m feeling good.”

While there are no guarantee any of the lines that practised together on Tuesday will be kept together for Thursday’s game, Nick Cousins joined Jonathan Drouin on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s line, while Thompson centred Paul Byron and Jordan Weal. The line of Phillip Danault between Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar was unchanged.

phickey@postmedia.com

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