Inside the Wild locker room, high on the wall above Ryan Suter’s stall, there’s a prominent quote from NBA legend Jerry West that says, “You won’t get much done in life if you only work hard on the days you feel good.”
Suter chuckled this week when asked how often he looks at that quote.
“I didn’t know it was up there,” he said. “I sit below it, so I don’t see it.”
It’s not like Suter needs the inspiration. He has finished an entire season without missing a game seven times in his career, including four of the five he has been with the Wild.
At 32, Suter is showing no signs of slowing down as he enters Year 6 of his 13-year, $98 million contract. An All-Star last season, he led the NHL with a plus-34 rating.
“He was outstanding,” Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “With this guy, it wouldn’t surprise me if he signed another contract after this. [Chris] Chelios played to [age 48]. This guy could play to 45 if he wants to.”
That might sound like wishful thinking for a franchise that still has eight years remaining on the matching contracts it gave Suter and Zach Parise as free agents in July 2012.
Parise, 33, takes more of a pounding with his style of play. The 5-11, 197-pound left wing missed the 2016 postseason because of a herniated disk, and has yet to be cleared for contact in this training camp because of a back injury.
But the 6-1, 200-pound Suter has been the model of consistency he was for Nashville before signing with the Wild.
“He’s in great shape,” Fletcher said. “He came even leaner this year than he has been in past year — both he and Mikko [Koivu]. And that’s exciting to me that they continue to evolve and find ways to keep quickness and keep their game at a high level.”
On the first day of training camp, Suter breezed through coach Bruce Boudreau’s infamous skate test, which requires players to cover 4 ½ lengths of the ice at full speed three times within a short span.
Suter joked that he did this without any summer conditioning.
Fellow Wild veteran Matt Cullen marveled: “I don’t think [Suter’s] heart rate got over 150.”
Suter averaged more than 29 minutes per game over his final three seasons playing for former Wild coach Mike Yeo, and that number dropped to 26:55 last season under Boudreau.
Coming into this camp, Boudreau said, “He’s going to still be put in every situation needed, and we’re going to play Ryan as much as we can to help us win games. … This year, I have no qualms about playing him as much as I need to play him.”
Suter and Jared Spurgeon have been defensive partners, but Boudreau wants to pair Suter and Matt Dumba this season, hoping Suter can play “a little more of an offensive role.”
Suter scored a career-high nine goals last season, though his assist total dropped to 31 after he notched a career-high 43 the previous season. Still, it was arguably a career season for Suter.
“Last year was the best I’d felt coming in, and I feel the same way,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve plateaued yet, at least I hope I haven’t.”
The Wild has been to the postseason every year of the Suter/Parise era — but the two stars have yet to lead the team past the playoffs’ second round.
“In the past we’ve spent so much energy trying to get in the playoffs, and then you get there and it’s kind of a letdown,” Suter said. “So for us, I feel like we want to have a steady, level season and then be trending upward as you get closer to the playoffs.”
After Suter said this, he set off to do more conditioning. Later that night, he and his wife, Becky, hosted 225 guests at Xcel Energy Center for the annual “Skate with the Greats” event, benefiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
From his locker, Suter might not be able to see the Jerry West quote above him, but he has a clear view of another one across the room from Vince Lombardi. That quote says, “The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work. Hard work is the price we pay for success.”
“I stare at that one all day,” Suter said.