Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Pius Suter or Teddy Blueger: Who’s the better fit at 3C for the Canucks in 2023–24?
6 months ago
We’ll cop to it right off the bat.
The simplest and realest answer to the question in the headline is “whichever of the two looks better there in training camp and preseason.” The Vancouver Canucks signed both Teddy Blueger and Pius Suter to bolster their centre depth, particularly when it came to the defensive end of the ice, and both free agents will be given a shot to claim the 3C slot prior to opening night.
In fact, given how much lineups and rosters shuffle and shift these days, we’d bet good money on both of them doing lengthy stints there throughout the 2023–24 season.
But said season is still two months away, and patience is both the best and worst trait of this fanbase, so we’re going to get a head-start on this particular training camp “battle.”
It’s Suter versus Blueger in a handful of head-to-head categorical showdowns, each aimed at determining which of the two most deserves to line up behind Elias Pettersson and JT Miller on the Canucks’ centre depth chart.
We’ve long contended in this column that faceoffs are overrated. But when it comes to picking out a 3C — especially one that you theoretically would like to frequently match up against top-six opposition in the Canucks’ own end — we’ll concede that they’re probably at their most important.
|Faceoffs Taken 2022/23
|Faceoffs Won 2022/23
|Faceoffs Taken Career
|Faceoffs Won Career
By that measure, Blueger has a considerable advantage, at least recently. He won more than 5% more of his faceoffs in 2022/23 than Suter did, and took 100+ more of them, too.
That said, their career winning percentages aren’t that far off one another, and Blueger has been at it for longer. His improvement seems to have come through in the last year or two, which means there’s probably still time for Suter to learn and get on his level.
For the time being, however, Blueger remains the superior faceoff taker.
Faceoffs are simple enough. Decoding how each player covers their own end of the ice, however, is a significantly more complicated task, but no less important in determining which player is the best fit for 3C. Ideally, whichever player takes that job on is doing so to lessen the defensive responsibilities of Pettersson and Miller, so this qualification is vital.
|Defensive Zone Starts
|On-Ice Goals For
|On-Ice Goals Against
It’s important to couch these stats in the reality of each player’s role on their individual teams. Both Blueger and Suter were handed a fairly dedicated defensive load in 2022/23. Both played primarily in their own end, often against top-six competition (more on that in the next section), and often without offensively-oriented linemates.
As such, they were both practically destined to have more goals against than goals for, and indeed that’s the case for both.
Both had about the exact number of goals scored against them as the fancy stats predicted, based on their deployment and circumstances. Of the two, Suter was the better overall suppressor of offence, keeping his goal differential as close to even as possible.
That said, Blueger’s shifts were undoubtedly harder. That’s no typo, Blueger really did start 81% of his shifts in his own end, which meant that if he was going to ever see the offensive end of the ice, he had to bring the puck up there himself. Suddenly, a -10 differential doesn’t look so bad.
|High-Danger Chance Control
Their possession and control analytics are virtually indistinguishable, each within a couple percentage points of one another in every single category. Of the two, one could say that Blueger’s results are more impressive on the sole basis of having started almost 30% more of his shifts in the defensive end than Suter.
But determining which defensive performance is truly stronger is impossible without analyzing the quality of competition, which comes next.
Before we get to that though, let’s get a little visual with those HockeyViz suppression charts!
Here, we can see that both Blueger and Suter improved their team’s overall defensive performance when they were on the ice, with Suter of the two perhaps doing a better job of locking down the centre of the ice specifically.
Minute-by-minute defensive results are ultimately a little meaningless without the vital context of who those minutes were played against. Put differently, controlling 48% of the chances against Connor McDavid and controlling 48% of the chances against Connor McMichael are two very different accomplishments.
The Canucks are very fortunate to have two top-six centres in Pettersson and Miller that tend to match up quite well against fellow top-six competition, but the Canucks’ 3C should also be prepared for some difficult matchups along the way.
In 2022/23, Suter played an average of 14:04 a night, compared to Bluegers’ 12:55.
During that time, both faced roughly the same quality of competition, however, which were each slightly above the league average difficulty.
That’s to be expected for 3Cs on rosters that have centres higher up the depth chart with strong two-way reputations, like Dylan Larkin and Sidney Crosby.
One might expect Blueger’s qualcomp to suffer for being on the same team as Crosby, specifically, but of the two, his is slightly more top-six-opposition-heavy than Suter’s.
Neither can be said to have played under true shutdown deployment, but both did plenty of shutting down of opposing talent. Blueger, in particular, deserves accolades for doing so while almost always starting in his own end.
Neither Blueger nor Suter is going to come anywhere close to replacing the offensive output of Bo Horvat, the last full-time occupant of the 3C position. But that’s okay. Regardless, whoever is the 3C can expect some combination of accompanying wingers from the set of Brock Boeser, Ilya Mikheyev, Anthony Beauvillier, Conor Garland, Vasily Podkolzin, and Nils Höglander, which makes for some serious offensive potential.
So, which of the two is best suited to make the most of that potential?
|Points Per Game
In terms of just raw production, Suter has a clear leg-up. While neither has produced an abundance of offence — to be expected, perhaps, given their deployment — Suter has consistently produced more.
To wit, the 36 points that Suter got in 2021/22 as an NHL sophomore is more than a third of the total points that Blueger has put down across five NHL seasons.
Things do tip a little in Blueger’s favour when we break things down to a per-60 basis, however.
Suter still produces more, but the gap has shrunk, and Blueger does put up primary assists at nearly double the rate.
It seems that Suter is perhaps the better at taking advantage of talented linemates, whereas Blueger is better at using them. Each drives offence in their own way.
When we think of the players that a Canucks 3C is likely to play with, we see potential for both to thrive. Suter looks like someone who would benefit in receiving set-ups from a Garland type. Blueger, on the other hand, seems ready to dish it out to a shooter like Podkolzin.
Of the two, Suter is probably the one with the most offensive upside, and the one with the most experience playing alongside offensive players. In Detroit, he spent time with the likes of Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond on a semi-regular basis. Our own Chris Faber had more on that offensive upside earlier today.
The most talented player Blueger played with last year for any length of time was an on-his-last-legs Phil Kessel.
Whether Blueger or Suter is designated as the 3C should have little bearing on who kills penalties more, and both will certainly do their fair share of it this season. Still, it’s part of the job, so it’s worth mentioning that we’ve already written up Blueger’s PK qualifications earlier in the summer, and have a piece coming on Suter the PKer shortly.
When it comes to the little things, like hitting and blocking shots, Blueger is clearly the far more prototypical grinder type, and has a considerable edge in physicality.
Neither should be considered a “tough guy” by any means. Suter has never dropped the gloves. Blueger has done so four times, but he’s got worked over pretty soundly on each occasion.
It’s really not a bad thing that the Canucks have two defensively-responsible centres with ample matchup ability in their bottom-six. It’s really, really not a bad thing that they’ve got each of them signed to sub-$2 million contracts at minimal term.
Having to pick one of them to be the 3C isn’t a problem. It isn’t even necessarily a reality. As we said at the outset, surely both will see time in that lineup slot during the 2022/23 season, and there’ll surely be some shuffling. Heck, with both plenty capable of playing the wing, we imagine Blueger and Suter will probably play together on ample occasions.
But if we had to pick between the two, it’s got to be Suter all day.
The offensive qualifications alone make him a better fit for the Canucks’ winger-heavy top-nine structure.
Both are quite capable defensively, but Suter’s ability to both matchup against top-six competition effectively and give a little back offensively at the same time is the key difference-maker in this hypothetical head-to-head.
A 2022/23 centre rotation of Pettersson-Miller-Suter-Blueger is a lot of “ERs,” but it’s also a very solid and — for the time being — a cost-effective one. For a team that was facing questions about its depth down the middle, it’s two tidy pieces of free agent business, and it kind of makes the central question of this article a moot point.
The Canucks, after all, don’t have to pick between Suter and Blueger. They picked both.
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