If you ever find yourself at an Owen Sound Attack home game, Del DeGrey won’t be hard to find. No boxes, no booths. Instead, the team’s general manager stands in the same corner of JD McArthur Arena and even leans on the same railing to get that perfect spot.
A former NHL defenseman, scout and self-described “observer of the game,” DeGray has been able to study some incredible young talent from that perspective during his 15-plus years with Owen Sound. But without a doubt, he is one of the most successful players he has ever faced. Montreal Canadiens The captain Nick Suzuki.
“He was arguably one of the smartest visionary kids in the OHL draft,” DeGray said, thinking back to scouting Suzuki for the first time, when the center played AAA for the London Junior Knights. “I thought he was an average to better-than-average skater but his speed wasn’t exceptional and he was really, really smart. He saw the ice really well, was an incredible passer and creative. You know, He was one of the first guys I saw bank the puck into the net from the goal side.
Suzuki is known as one of the more talented young forwards in the NHL today, but it was more than two-drags and saucer passes that drew him to de Gray and Owen Sound early on.
“I met him and his dad at an interview where I drove them to Owen Sound, and after my first meeting with Nick I said to our head scout, ‘This is the player we want to draft. Going,'” DeGrey explained. That took Suzuki with the 14th overall pick of the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.
In his first season in the OHL, London, Ont. The native earned a spot on the league’s first All-Rookie team. He then doubled his production as a sophomore. Beyond the incredible stats and flashy highlight reel, though, the center left a lasting impression because of how he conducted himself behind the scenes.
“I would say that Nick is a very humble superstar. He really, really is,” DeGrey said. “In junior hockey, he was a humble superstar. He had time for the kids and the people around Owen Sound. He was very respectful. He was a truly first-class individual. He was never a guy where He knew how good he was and he told everyone. He let people tell him how good he was and I really respected him for the way he behaved.
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It’s difficult to predict a person’s role, but Suzuki finished his junior career as a three-time William Henley Trophy recipient as the OHL’s most sportsmanlike player, as well as his second season. Named CHL Sportsman of the Year during
“Just an incredible talent, but more importantly, such a good down-to-earth kid,” Joey Hishon, a fellow Attic alumnus, told SportsNet. “Does so much for his friends and the community around him. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Hishon, a former member of the offensive front office and coaching staff, has also helped coach Suzuki during the offseason. Suzuki and Hishon are second and third, respectively, behind Bobby Ryan on Owen Sound’s all-time goals and points list.
Suzuki did not finish his junior career with Owen Sound. He was dealt to the Guelph Storm as part of a blockbuster trade midway through the 2018–19 season.
“I wish I could sit here and tell you what we got in return, but as far as that trade goes, I don’t have a problem,” DeGrey reminded. “I’m a big believer in doing what’s right for the player. I’ve got the opportunity to get the most out of these players and if that means pushing them forward to improve their careers, even if it’s just Even if it’s his junior career and we’re going to get the assets back for him, I’m going to do what’s best for everybody.”
The move turned out very well for Suzuki. He recorded 49 points in 29 regular season games before adding 16 goals and 42 points in 24 playoff games and capturing the OHL championship with Guelph. He earned the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as OHL playoff MVP and, not surprisingly, added the CHL Memorial Cup Most Sportsmanlike Player trophy to his collection this spring.
DeGray said he doesn’t have a particular favorite memory of Suzuki’s time in Owen Sound because there were so many high points, but every now and then he’ll reflect on a special moment from a random regular-season game.
“People used to think ‘Nick’s got a slight frame, he’s not very solid’ and stuff [like that]But I remember one time he was carrying the puck down and a good-sized defenseman tried to play it straight up and beat him. Nick caught him at the last second, he realized what was going to happen and he dropped his shoulder and Nick skated right over the guy almost in stride,” DeGrey recalled. “At that point, I thought to myself, ‘Anyone watching this game has to understand how strong Nick Suzuki is.’ It doesn’t matter how skilled and all that, but how strong he is and how strong he skates. For his ability to do that, I was actually blown away.
Suzuki being stronger than his frame contributed to him being selected 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Draft.
DeGray himself was a draft pick of the Flames in 1981 and played 153 NHL games split between Calgary, Toronto, Los Angeles and Buffalo. He knows how meaningful and potentially life-changing it is for players to walk on stage after hearing their name called.
“I was in the draft. I go to all the drafts,” DeGrey said. “I enjoy every draft I go to whether we have a player there or not. To be honest with you, you feel a lot of fatherly pride, the fact that one of your players has been selected by one of 32 teams in round seven. It’s a dream they all have and to be a part of helping them get there? I love it, it’s big.”
Suzuki’s rights were traded to Montreal in a max-pace deal before he made his NHL debut, but that didn’t derail his career for a second. He has found a home with the Canadiens, improving year after year, and the Original Six franchise named him the 31st captain in team history ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.
He was selected to the 2023 NHL All-Star Game earlier this month, leads Montreal in scoring more than halfway through the season, and is on pace for another career year in terms of on-ice production. .
As the 23-year-old’s skills and stats continue to blossom at the NHL level and Suzuki’s stock rises with each pro season, he’ll always be the humble superstar he is in Owen Sound.
“People in our organization are still in contact with him and I know that if I call him and he doesn’t pick up, he’ll call me back,” DeGray added. added. “That’s the kind of kid he was. Very respectful, very caring of everyone around him and, quite honestly, just went out and played and played every single day, every week, every month and every year. got better and better. And that got him to where he is.”
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