Despite playing in the State of Hockey, the Wild don’t have any of the players typically listed in discussions of the superstars of the NHL. People with only a passing awareness of hockey have likely heard of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Players like Henrik Lundqvist, P.K. Subban, and Jaromir Jagr garner attention for both their stellar play on the ice and their off-ice activities. The Wild do have some elite players on the team, perhaps none that stand out more for their on ice performance than Ryan Suter. Does Suter deserve to be counted among the NHL’s superstars?
For starters, we need to consider what it means to be a superstar. Merriam-Webster defines superstar as:
1: a star (as in sports or the movies) who is considered extremely talented, has great public appeal, and can usually command a high salary
2: one that is very prominent or is a prime attraction
It appears that talent isn’t the whole story. A player’s personality also contributes to his overall appeal. Ovechkin, one of the most talented forwards in the NHL, also happens to be a bit of a goofball. It humanizes him and appeals to fans in a way that his performance on ice does not. Superstar status boils down to a being the kind of player that fans are excited about. Does Suter achieve that?
Suter’s hockey pedigree is first class. Son of Bob Suter, a amember of the "Miracle on Ice" team that won the gold medal in 1980 is not a bad place to start for name recognition, but Ryan has done plenty on his own. He’s a two-time All-Star, two-time Olympian, alternate captain for both the Wild and the Olympic team, and a Norris finalist.
Looking at his stats over the course of his career, courtesy of www.nhl.com, and it is easy to see why he’s received all those accolades. Beginning in his third season, he has never failed to get at least 30 points in a season, including the lockout shortened season of 2012-13. He set a personal best in assists and points last season with 43 and 51 respectively. He averaged .62 points per game, tying Drew Doughty and finishing ahead of Kevin Shattenkirk, Brent Seabrook, Victor Hedman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Justin Faulk. His +/- has been positive every season except one, and in his career he enjoys a +/- of 77 which is 15th overall in the league for active defensemen.
Where Suter really distinguishes himself, however, is as a veritable ironman of the league. Since the 2011-12 season, Suter has finished in the top three for average time on ice and was first overall on that count three times. He has played at least 75 games in 8 of 11 seasons in the NHL. He has played a complete season six times during his career. His performance with that large amount of time on ice has been by and large pretty good although advanced stats (www.puckalytics.com) seem to indicate that he would be more productive with a lighter workload. That being said, Suter’s ability to remain productive at all with the workload he carries is impressive.
Suter’s performance, while excellent, doesn’t top the league in any way except with regards to time on ice. His game doesn’t stand out in any one area, but rather is above average in nearly all of them. That makes him a great asset to the Wild, but Suter doesn’t have the electrifying skating of Subban, Shea Weber’s terrifying slapshot, or the sky high scoring of Erik Karlsson. The product on ice is solid but rarely makes the highlight reel.
Off ice, Suter has some fine qualities. He’s a family man and has a dry sense of humor. Unfortunately, in front of a camera, he lacks charisma. Remember this commercial?
Admittedly, a fifteen second commercial for a regional business isn’t the best opportunity to conduct a charm offensive, but Suter sounds like a third grader trying to remember his lines for the school play. He does better in a more conversational interview like this one.
Suter is clearly more at ease in this situation than the commercial, but he’s still a little flat and leaning heavily on conventional "hockey answers" for the interview. He’s clearly a quiet guy that leads by example, which is fine but likely doesn’t do much to attract the attention of sports fans nationwide.
Suter, despite being one of the top defensemen in the NHL, probably doesn’t qualify as a true superstar. The overall talent and reputation certainly are there, but he doesn’t seem to quite have the broad level of appeal necessary for superstar status. Contributing to that is that Minnesota is not a large market like New York, Toronto, or Chicago, reducing Suter’s exposure to hockey fans. Short of the Wild making a deep run during the playoffs and gaining a larger amount of visibility that way, Suter is dependent on representing Team USA at international tournaments for national-level attention.
Fortunately, Suter seems unlikely to care much about fame and instead continue to be one of the best blueliners in the league. Discussing whether or not he’s reached superstar status will stop being interesting as soon as the season begins and we can watch him and the rest of the Wild return to the ice.