Monday marked the deadline for teams to issue a qualifying offer to their pending restricted free agents. Players that didn’t receive a qualifying offer by the deadline will hit the open market on Wednesday unless they are signed by their respective teams before free agency opens. Some surprising names could potentially become available, including Danton Heinen (ANA), Ondrej Kase (BOS), Nick Ritchie (BOS), Dominik Kahun (EDM), and Ryan Donato (SJS).
The most shocking name on the list was Pius Suter of the Chicago Blackhawks. The 25-year-old forward just came off a solid rookie season and received a few Calder votes (one third-place vote, two fourth-place votes, and one fifth-place vote). He was fourth in scoring on Chicago, notching 14 goals and 27 points.
If he does make it to free agency, the Wild have a big opportunity on the table, one they can’t afford to ignore. It would immediately upgrade their center depth; Suter could have a significant role as the second-line center behind Joel Eriksson Ek.
Suter took a unique path to the NHL. After being named the most valuable player in the Swiss League just a year ago, he signed with the Blackhawks as a European free agent last summer.
It’s clear that Suter is a good player with immense potential. Those dominant numbers should give teams something to lean on if there’s any concern about whether some of his rookie-season scoring was inflated.
With Jonathan Toews out the entirety of last season and Kirby Dach sidelined with a wrist injury, Suter was thrown on the top line with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. It would be an understatement to say he excelled in the difficult role.
It’s a perplexing move because of what Suter accomplished in his rookie season. Not only was he a feasible option to fill the top-line role for the Blackhawks, but he put up impressive numbers. He was worth 1.1 wins above replacement, according to Evolving-Hockey. He was one of four forwards on Chicago to have a positive expected goals for percentage with a minimum of 250 minutes played (50.36%).
Suter certainly looks like a polished player who can provide a strong two-way game. He was responsible defensively, which is impressive given that he played significant time with Kane. He made an impact at even-strength, which is also where he scored a majority of his points.
Likewise, he produced strong power-play results, which is an area the Wild need help in after they struggled all season to do anything outside of five-on-five.
While there is no doubt Suter had a good year, it’s important to look at what scouts think of him. Admittedly, some of his numbers could be inflated from playing with elite talent on either side of him.
“He’s legit,” Scott Wheeler of The Athletic said about Suter. “Plays with a lot of skill and may be able to help drive a third line at the NHL level. The NLA had some decent talent this year, and he was the clear-cut best player. He’s a strong defensive player, too, so it’s not hard to imagine him in a variety of roles.”
The Wild should definitely pursue him, even if his ceiling is an effective middle-six center. At 25 years old, he would be a big addition for a team that desperately needs help down the middle. He’s versatile, too; he can also play at left-wing, which is one of the positions they are reportedly focusing on in free agency.
This is a great opportunity for Minnesota to pry away a young center from Chicago without giving up any assets. However, the Wild are cap-strapped starting next season. Assuming the Blackhawks haven’t re-signed him for financial reasons, is there a chance he is demanding too much? We all know Minnesota can’t afford to throw any significant dollar amount at him after a decent rookie season.
Still, the Wild should definitely investigate this.
All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference.