Nick Suzuki learned some French growing up in southwestern Ontario.
Knowing that a big responsibility was imminent, he went to work both dusting off and trying to improve those skills this summer.
The 23-year-old is fully aware that there is a long way to go. Suzuki also has no problem with Quebec politicians weighing on his fluency in the province’s official language.
Named captain of the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, the center’s ability to speak French immediately became a talking point.
With Quebec’s provincial election campaign in full swing, party leaders hailed the decision to give Suzuki the job under pressure ahead of his fourth season with the rebuilding club. They all added that he needed to be able to communicate with fans of the Original Six franchise in both French and English.
“Many Quebec politicians want [players] to speak French and that’s fair,” the London, Ont., native said during the NHL/AJLNH Player Media Tour this week just outside Las Vegas.
“French is spoken more in Quebec than English.”
WATCH | Suzuki talks about the “honor and privilege” of captaining the Canadiens:
“We don’t really use it too much and we don’t try it much,” he added. “[Politicians] have the right to think that the players must speak French.
“I feel like I know a little bit of what I’m talking about when I speak. I read better than I’m able to have a conversation. I’m pretty well placed. I can improve too.”
Danault supports his former teammate
Former teammate Phillip Danault, meanwhile, has no doubt that his former teammate — the one he took under his wing early in Montreal — will succeed in the new role.
” Very proud of him. He deserves it,” said Quebec-born Danault, who signed with the Los Angeles Kings last summer after six seasons in Montreal, of the youngest captain in Canadiens history. “He’s very serious about what he does, and I don’t think that could be a better fit than Nick.
Being a younger guy and being in a big market like Montreal, I think he just wanted me to make sure I was ready.— Suzuki on Habs head coach Martin St. Louis giving him time to decide the team’s captaincy
“You could tell he already had an edge to be a great leader. I like the move from Montreal and I respect that. He’s going to do a great job.”
Suzuki was encouraged by head coach Martin St. Louis to take the time to weigh the decision to take on the role after initially broaching the subject a few months ago.
“Being a younger guy and being in a big market like Montreal, I think he just wanted me to make sure I was ready,” Suzuki said. “I would have accepted it straight away, but I just listened to it and talked to a few other people.”
One was the only captain he played for in the NHL.
“Shea Weber was a guy I leaned on,” Suzuki said of the veteran defender, who missed last season with a potentially career-ending foot/ankle injury. of player.
The 37-year-old was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in June as part of a salary cap change, which allowed Montreal to name the 31st captain in franchise history.
“He said I was ready,” Suzuki shared of their conversations. “Gave me a lot of confidence.”
Ready to fill the leadership void left by Price
The Canadiens are set for another huge leadership vacuum this season with goaltender Carey Price likely to land on long-term injured reserve with a knee problem that has allowed him to go just five appearances in 2021-22.
“Hard to see and hard to hear,” Suzuki said of the 35-year-old. “It’s just sad. He wants to be out there competing, and he can’t do it. I know it’s hard for him. We want him to fully recover and be healthy.
“You don’t want to be hurt your whole life. You just want him to get well and see what happens after this.”
The Canadiens have gone through huge changes since their surprise run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
St. Louis replaced the fired Dominique Ducharme in February, and while the results haven’t been all that different on the ice, the mood around the team has changed dramatically with the Hall of Fame winger in charge. .
“He put us in every position to be successful,” Suzuki said. “The whole team is starting to play better.”
The Canadiens, however, still finished last overall before winning the NHL Draft lottery and earning the No. 1 pick at their home rink.
Suzuki was on stage in an electric Bell Center when Montreal general manager Kent Hughes stunned the hockey world by passing Shane Wright – a center long considered the consensus best pick – and taking on Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky .
“When we won the lottery, everyone was [on the] Shane Wright train,” Suzuki said. “But as the process progressed [Slafkovsky] took a lot of steam. Can definitely see why they loved him so much. He’s an amazing guy, he looks really strong.
Suzuki was also struck by the range of emotions inside the arena as Slafkovsky’s name was announced.
“It was unreal,” he said. “When we chose him, it was a shock, then [fans] joined him.”
A joker in the sights of the team
And while there’s a strong argument to be made, the Canadiens should do everything they can to give themselves the best chance of reaching star center Connor Bedard – considered the game’s next generation talent – in the draft. 2023, Suzuki believes Montreal can challenge for a wild-card spot this season.
“For the players, it’s about winning games,” he said. “We don’t come into the season wanting a lottery pick.”
Originally acquired from Vegas as part of the deal with former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, Suzuki understands the level of trust the organization has placed in him.
It started with an eight-year, US$63 million contract extension that kicks off this season before he stitched the “C” onto his jersey.
Now is the time to start paying off that belief.
“It’s great,” he said. “Definitely a historic line of captaincy in Montreal.
“Proud to be in this group.”