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Kochetkov and Suzuki Bolster the Chicago Wolves’ Roster

An already deep Wolves team gets better with the additions of Suzuki and Kochetkov.

Kontinental Hockey League: CSKA Moscow vs Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images

This was going to be a piece centered on Ryan Suzuki’s return to the lineup after missing three months due to injury. Instead, y’all are getting bonus content this week. With Suzuki having played in a handful of games since returning from injury and Kochetkov joining the team hopefully at some point this week, the Wolves are getting deeper. They’re one of the top teams in the AHL in spite of their recent skid and are poised to make a deep run in the playoffs later this spring.

Suzuki has centered Chicago’s third line and has two goals in six games since returning from injury. He’s seeing time along the wall on Chicago’s second power play unit as well. Chicago is a team that leans heavily on their veterans, so it’s no surprise that Suzuki’s ice time has been limited thus far. Still, I’ve seen some improvements in his game this season and I’m excited for what the future holds for him. Kochetkov is coming to Chicago after a successful KHL season that saw him post the sixth highest save percentage (.926) in the league. Kochetkov kept his team in games that they had no business winning, often shown by his team’s lack of scoring whenever he started. Everyone that I’ve spoken to regarding Kochetkov has been impressed with his growth this season and is more optimistic that he’ll become an NHL goaltender.

These are two major additions to Chicago’s roster. The Wolves’ power play has struggled for a while now, and getting a strong playmaker back on their second unit should drive results. Kochetkov is now one of four goalies on the Wolves’ roster and should battle for playing time with the others. There’s a good chance that he outperforms our other two prospects, too. The trade deadline is nearing and the Hurricanes could look to trade away a handful of prospects in order to make the NHL team better. Chicago will need Suzuki and Kochetkov moving forward, especially if the team moves on from a handful of their prospects.

What are the Wolves Getting In Suzuki?

Suzuki has always been a playmaker that can thread passes through any amount of coverage. His hockey sense and knack for creating scoring chances made him a top draft pick. In his draft year, he was described as an elite playmaker that preferred to play along the perimeter as opposed to getting pucks to the middle of the ice. While I still notice some of those tendencies, I’m also seeing more aggressiveness in Suzuki’s game. He’ll pressure the puck and is starting to gain the confidence needed in order to take the puck to the middle.

Suzuki has been fantastic in both the neutral and offensive zones this season and can create offense by attacking an opponent’s blind spot and stealing the puck from them. Take a look at this clip, where Suzuki manages to sneak past not only the goalie but a defender as well.

Suzuki’s board work has been impressive, too. In the past, I noticed that Suzuki needed to add muscle and get involved in puck battles. While he still needs to add about 15 pounds, he’s much better along the boards. Take a look at this play. Suzuki is number six in maroon.

Here’s some power play work from Suzuki. A nice rush up the ice to enter the zone with possession leads to him making a handful of passes that lead to shots. Eventually, Chicago scores a power play goal, albeit a fluky one.

For the final clip, I’ve seen Suzuki use his shot more this season. Here’s one of his goals.

Now, I’ve seen Suzuki create chances and make some incredible passes to his teammates early on. Chicago is having a major problem with depth scoring right now, and a lot of their players are struggling to score. Having Suzuki to set them up will be beneficial moving forward. He’s making these plays happen and eventually, we’ll start to see him appear on the score sheet more often. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Points aren’t always an accurate indicator of how a player is performing. In Suzuki’s case, he’s creating scoring chances, pressuring the puck and generating some takeaways in the process. That’s encouraging and will be important for the Wolves moving forward.

What are the Wolves Getting In Kochetkov?

Kochetkov is an athletic goaltender that has the potential to become the starting goalie of the future for the Hurricanes. Out of all of Carolina’s goalie prospects, Kochetkov stands above the rest as the likeliest to reach the NHL. He’s an elite goaltender that could be the Hurricanes’ best drafted goaltender since, well, ever.

Personally, I see the Vasilevskiy comparison and I get excited but also nervous. Vasilevskiy is arguably the best goalie in the world, and to be quite honest, I’d be happy if Kochetkov wound up even half as good as the Tampa netminder. Realistically, I can see Kochetkov peaking as a top ten, maybe even top five starter in the NHL. His explosive pushes and athletic frame allow for him to make some truly dazzling saves, even when his positioning is shaky. I’ve tweeted a lot of clips of Kochetkov over the course of this season, so let’s break down some of my favorites that show why I believe Kochetkov has what it takes to be an NHL goalie.

Don’t worry, the defense doesn’t get better.

This save is fantastic. He recognizes the pass and in a split second, he’s not only square to the puck but he’s out of the crease challenging the shooter.

Remember when I said the defense doesn’t get better? CSKA is allowed to put on a passing clinic in the offensive zone, but Kochetkov makes a dazzling stop. That’s one of my favorite saves of his this season.

Ever seen a goalie make a breakaway save look as routine as this? Kochetkov challenges the shooter and shoots out the pad to redirect the puck to his teammates. Impressive stuff.

Again, a quick reaction to the pass and a nice save.

I mean, I think my tweet sums it up perfectly.

Kochetkov can be a little erratic at times, but as we’ve seen in these clips, he’s more than capable of recovering to make another stop if he needs to. Having Kochetkov in North America now as opposed to early May is huge as well. He’ll get more reps with the Wolves and should see some game action, which will help him adjust to the North American game. It’s quicker and skaters have less space to work with, meaning Kochetkov will likely have to fight through more traffic and see shooters make decisions a little quicker than he’s used to. This gives Kochetkov the opportunity to prepare for next season, where he’ll either be counted on as our AHL starter or as a possible NHL option. Kochetkov is close to being NHL ready, that much is clear.

Right now, the Wolves are getting a goaltender that could quite possibly be the best goalie out of the four they currently have on the roster. Kochetkov, if developed properly, could be crucial to Chicago’s playoff success. He proved that he could steal games in the KHL, and with a better team in front of him, Kochetkov could be a force to be reckoned with in the AHL. The only concern I have is that the Wolves give up a lot of high danger chances and odd man rushes, so that’s naturally going to be tough for a goaltender.

As always, the future is bright with this team. Suzuki’s development is coming along nicely and getting Kochetkov in the AHL two and a half months before we were expecting is an exciting development. Even if the Hurricanes trade a few players at the deadline, we have a bright present and a bright future to look forward to. How many other teams can say that?