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Canes’ Suzuki, Cotton: same position, same goal, different paths

Ryan Suzuki was born in Canada, weaned on hockey, developed in the Canadian junior leagues and a star last season for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.

David Cotton was born in Texas, where football is king, left the state to play junior hockey and will be a rising senior this season at Boston College, where he will be the Eagles’ captain.

Their common thread is that both are centers drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes. Suzuki, the Canes’ first-round pick in the last weekend’s NHL draft, is attending his first prospects development camp this week in Raleigh. Cotton, a sixth-round pick in 2015, is attending his fourth and among the oldest campers at 21.

While their paths have crossed this week, their options are different.

Suzuki, a playmaking center, is like most first-rounders and has set his expectations high: make a good first impression this week at camp, be invited to the Canes’ training camp in September and play his way onto the roster.

“You want to be playing at the highest level possible,” Suzuki said.

Cotton already has made his decision. He’ll go back to Boston College for his senior year and will become an unrestricted free agent once his college eligibility ends.

“The hope is when he gets done he’ll want to sign with us based on the relationship we have with him and him wanting to be here,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of the 6-3, 190-pound forward, a second-team All-American at BC last season.

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David Cotton answers media questions at the Carolina Hurricanes prospects development camp on June 26, 2019. The forward will be a senior at Boston College this year. Chip Alexander

When the Canes made Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin their first-round pick in 2015, he quickly signed an entry-level contact with Carolina and began his professional career at 18. While Hanifin, as a college player, could have been sent to the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate, Hanifin played at the NHL level.

Suzuki, who turned 18 in May, may also be offered an entry-level contract this week but as a junior player has more limited options. He’ll either have to play with the Hurricanes this season at the NHL level or be returned to Barrie for another season.

“With where he is in his career, the chance of him going back are a lot greater than him staying with our team,” Canes general manager Don Waddell said Thursday.

A year ago, the Canes drafted forward Andrei Svechnikov out of Barrie with the No. 2 overall pick and had him in the lineup from day one. Physically and emotionally, he was ready for the big step up to the NHL and the Canes were patient with him throughout a season in which Svechnikov scored 20 goals and helped Carolina reach the playoffs.

“I don’t think you’re projecting any of these kids to come into your lineup next year,” Brind’Amour said of this year’s prospects camp.

Svechnikov and Suzuki were teammates with the Colts, but Suzuki, as a late first-round selection -- No. 28 overall -- accepts the likelihood he’ll be in junior again this year.

The question is how much would another year of junior benefit Suzuki? He likes to say playing with Svechnikov at times in 2017-18 helped him “pad his stats” but he did enough of that last season in Barrie -- he had 25 goals and 75 points in 65 games, including eight goals and 20 assists on the power play.

Another year with the Colts would mean another year under coach Dale Hawerchuk, a Hockey Hall of Famer. He could continue to fill out his still-lean 6-0, 176-pound frame. But how much more does Suzuki have to prove, or is able to improve, at the junior hockey level?

“If I’m ready to play at the next level I’m ready to play. If not, junior is not the worst thing and the OHL is a great league,” he said. “There’s a lot of top talent in the OHL. Going back wouldn’t be bad at all. If I don’t make the (Canes) I have a great organization to go back to.”

Brind’Amour is a proponent of college hockey, having attended Michigan State for a year before his long pro career. A son, Skyler, will be a freshman and play at Quinnipiac this year.

“It’s like playing in a men’s league, with guys 21- and 22-years old,” Brind’Amour said.

Cotton, a Parker, Texas, native, also will be playing for a Hockey Hall of Famer -- longtime Eagles coach Jerry York, who was selected this week for induction as a builder alongside former Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford. After finishing with 23 goals as a junior, Cotton will be looking to add another big college season to his hockey resume rather than make the move to pro hockey.

“A lot of it was, am I ready for this?” Cotton said. “It was a difficult decision but we’ve had three mediocre years at BC and it’s a school and situation built on success, and from my freshman year I’ve wanted to add to that. It hasn’t come and having this opportunity, especially being a captain, and to achieve something as a team was a big part of my decision.”

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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