VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Chuck Fletcher was actually trying to comfort Ryan Suter, to calm the nerves of one of the Wild’s most important players, who was feeling the weight of a hockey state on his shoulders.
Suter, off to a rocky start to his Wild career and already being sliced and diced by critics, instead took Fletcher’s words as a challenge. Between Games 4 and 5 in St. Louis in late January, the Wild general manager met with Suter to let him know he wasn’t “Superman.”
“I didn’t want Ryan to get caught up in the day-to-day stats or where he stood every single day in relation to other players,” Fletcher said. “I wanted to assure him we were thrilled that we signed him and that it would take time. I wanted to remind him that he and Zach [Parise] didn’t sign 10-day contracts. They were 13-year contracts, that people will form their own opinions, but that ‘we’re happy we have you.’ ”
Suter appreciated the pep talk, but there was one big thing Fletcher said that slapped Suter across the face. Fletcher estimated it would take Suter 20 games to acclimate to his new surroundings.
If true, if it actually would take the Wild’s biggest minute-muncher 20 games to settle in, what would that do to the Wild in such a truncated season?
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Twenty games is too long. If he says it’s 20, I’m going to try to make it 10,’ ” Suter said.
Guess what? Game 11 was Feb. 9 against his old Nashville Predators. Suter assisted on both goals, including Devin Setoguchi’s overtime winner, and ever since, not only has Suter taken off, so has the Wild. The Wild is 11-5-1 since, and leads the Northwest Division heading into Monday night’s clash with the Canucks.
In those 17 games, Suter has 19 points and is plus-4. He not only leads the Wild with 23 points in 27 games (Jared Spurgeon led Wild defensemen with 23 points in 70 games last season), Suter is second among all NHL defensemen in both points and assists (21).
Rolling with change
Suter leads the league in average ice time per game (27 minutes, 16 seconds). And by catapulting to legitimate Norris Trophy contender status he has shown exactly why Parise aligned himself with Suter during last summer’s free-agent frenzy.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said Parise, who leads the Wild with 11 goals. “He’s really gone to another level the way he’s controlling the game and controlling the play — and producing offensively, that’s just a bonus for us. I mean, he plays 30 minutes a night. It’s pretty impressive.”
Suter, who spent his entire career in Nashville, admits he was “just overwhelmed” the first couple of weeks.
“When you make a change like that, everything changes — not just the team, everything — your routines before the game, where you’re living, and I was just trying to get everything under control,” Suter said. “At first, it’s kind of shell-shock. New systems and new everything, and you just don’t feel comfortable.
“When that happens, it feels like everything’s going against you.”
Parise spent his entire career in New Jersey, but because he’s a forward, he often had to adjust to different linemates. He also had multiple coaches, so he knew how to adjust to tweaked systems.
In Nashville, Suter played predominately with the same partner — Shea Weber — under the same coach — Barry Trotz — for his entire career.
Naturally, most figured the adjustment would be harder for Suter than Parise.