ARLINGTON, V.A. — Once Alexander Suzdalev takes the ice for Washington Capitals rookie camp, a switch flips in his mind. Automatically, he grabs hold of a loose puck and shows off his silky mitts. And, for the 18-year-old, it’s second nature at this point, as easy as breathing now as he dons an NHL practice jersey.
“It’s fun,” he encourages.
Suzdalev is perhaps best known for his quick hands, deceptiveness, creativity and puckhandling ability. That, and his versatility and high hockey IQ, put him on Washington’s radar going into the 2022 NHL Draft. The Capitals called his name in the third round and subsequently signed him to an entry-level deal this offseason. And since then, Suzdalev has made himself at home in the organization that he grew up a major fan of.
“I was really proud, really good organization,” Suzdalev said modestly.
His passion for the game began back in Russia. He was born in Khabarovsk, and since he could remember, he was on skates. His father, Anatoly Suzdalev, was a professional bandy player. Bandy is quite similar to ice hockey. Athletes skate on a considerably bigger playing surface that is about the size of a football pitch. The goal cage is 11 feet wide and 6-foot-11 feet high. Body checking is not allowed, the game is played with a ball instead of a puck and many games are outdoor.
Given his bandy experience, Anatoly introduced his son to hockey at a young age and took him to the rink on a near-daily basis, where Suzdalev automatically found his calling.
“I got a lot of support and just going to the rink every day… went on the ice every day, and basically fell in love with it,” Suzdalev said.
🚨 GOAL 🚨
Alexander Suzdalev has his 1st in a Pats uniform & we lead 3-0! Yes, we know it's pre-season, but we're still excited 😁
— Regina Pats (@WHLPats) September 10, 2022
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At the age of seven, Suzdalev moved from Russia to Sweden to continue his hockey career after his father signed a bandy deal with Vetlanda Bandyklubb. Suzdalev doesn’t remember the move that much, but for the most part, the adjustment was easy and he made friends quickly thanks to the tight-knit hockey community. Still, there were some noticeable differences between the ranks of Russian and Swedish hockey that took some time to get used to.
Off the ice, Suzdalev would go home and watch the Capitals on TV, where he idolized Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. Semin was among his favorite players; he had his jersey and Ovechkin’s and also met Semin this summer since they started playing hockey in the same place back in Russia.
All the while, he’d play mini-sticks in the house, which he credits to his dangling ability now. He moved up the ranks easily in Sweden, making strides each year.
“I just really like to play the game… you get to the rink and get on the ice,” Suzdalev said with a smile. “I played so many games when I was young and mini-sticks all the time. [Quick hands] come with that.”
Over the last two seasons, Suzdalev played with HV71 Jr. in the Swedish Jr. League. In 13 games in his first season, he had nine points. This past year, he broke out with 15 goals and 36 assists for 51 points in 45 games. This year, though, he’s continuing his development in the WHL as he transitions to the North American game. He couldn’t be in a better place, though, as he skates alongside Connor Bedard with the Regina Pats.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to develop my game and my weaknesses, and I think it kind of fits well,” Suzdalev said, adding, “It’s a bit more physical game, and I need to improve that. And of course, to play with Bedard is going to be a really good experience.”
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Bedard and Suzdalev played together overseas in Sweden and so far, have gotten to reunite for a bit during training camp in the W. The projected 2023 first-overall pick speaks highly of the winger, who has skated on his line and complements his style well.
“He’s so skilled and it seems like he can find me all the time,” Bedard told reporters at the Pats media day. “I’m really looking forward to building that chemistry and he’s definitely a special player.”
The Bedard-Suzdalev chemistry is already growing 👀
— Regina Pats (@WHLPats) September 3, 2022
Suzdalev is also excited to be in a league where he feels he can better utilize his skill and also admitted to liking the North American rinks more than the ones overseas.
“It’s been really good… [Bedard and I] know each other a little more now and things are going to get better and better every day,” Suzdalev said. “It’s been a big transition and small ice a lot faster and you have to think faster. I like to play on smaller rinks because it’s more space for skills and stuff.”
Despite the high stakes, Suzdalev tries to stay relaxed and enjoy the moment. When he’s not at the rink, he unwinds with movies and TV and stays tuned in to NFL and soccer. His favorite TV show: “The Last Dance,” as Michael Jordan serves as an inspiration. The Russian-born Swede is also a music fan. He grew up with EDM, but since coming to North America, has shifted to country music.
In the end, as he chases his NHL dream, Suzdalev is soaking in every experience. After Washington’s rookie camp, he will take part in the Capitals main training camp next week. He is just one of three Regina players taking part in an NHL training camp ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.
“Overall, just great experience,” Suzdalev said. “I look forward to everything. Great start with the guys and [we’re] good competitors on the ice,” Suzdalev said.