With their third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, the Calgary Flames selected forward Aydar Suniev out of the BCHL at 80th overall. The team was so high on Suniev that general manager Craig Conroy revealed the team debated taking him at 48th overall in the second round. Suniev will be followed closely in the coming years as he was selected with the pick the Flames acquired in the Tyler Toffoli trade. So what’s the story on Suniev and why were the Flames so high on him? Let’s take a look.
Who is Aydar Suniev?
Suniev is a left shot, left-wing and stands at 6’2″ and 205 pounds, very similar to Flames first rounder Samuel Honzek. Suniev was born in Kazan, Russia but came over to North America in 2019 at the young age of 14.
He’s since spent time in various leagues in North America including AAA teams in the US, Academy Prep teams in Canada, and has spent time in the GOJHL and BCHL. Needless to say he’s had quite the journey from his first step on North American ice all the way to the NHL Draft.
Suniev’s on-ice production
Over the past two seasons Suniev has played primarily for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, while also spending some time with St. Andrew’s College in the CAHS (Canadian High School Hockey).
|Year||Draft Relative||League||Team||GP||G||A||P||Playoff GP||Playoff G||Playoff |
|CAHS||St. Andrew’s College||11||13||10||23||/||/||/||/|
During his D-1 year Suniev split his time between high school hockey in Ontario and the BCHL. With St. Andrews College he posted 23 points and 11 goals in just 11 games. His point per game pace of over two was far and away the best on his team—it wasn’t particularly close either. Unsurprisingly he made the jump to the BCHL that season as a 16-year-old. He also found success there as well, posting 20 points in 17 games. His point per game pace of 1.18 was fourth on the Vees.
This most recent season Suniev’s offence really took off. He would light up the BCHL to the tune of 45 goals and 90 points in just 50 games. His 45 goals were tied for the most on his team with Carolina Hurricanes 2023 first rounder Bradly Nadeau. His 90 points meanwhile ranked third behind Nadeau and his 2003-born brother Joshua. The trio were the top three scorers in the BCHL, meaning Suniev finished tied for first league wide for goals and third for points. Among rookies he ranked tops in both categories. His 45 goals were the seventh most by a U19 player in the BCHL since the turn of the century.
In the playoffs Suniev continued his torrid pace, registering nine goals and 23 points in 15 games as the Vees would win the BCHL title. He’d finish the playoffs fourth league wide for goals and fifth for points. As impressive as Suniev’s numbers were this past season, it’s certainly worth considering how much of an effect playing with a first-round draft pick like Nadeau had on his point totals. That said, he did spend some time during the season on the Vee’s second line, away from Nadeau.
Suniev is very well-rounded for a forward selected in the third round. He possesses plenty of skills in his toolkit that along with his size make him an intriguing prospect.
Without a doubt the strongest part of Suniev’s game is his shot. There’s a reason he scored 45 goals in just 50 games this past season. Suniev has a very hard, accurate, and heavy wrist shot that he uses to beat goaltenders from range. He also possesses a very strong one-timer and he isn’t afraid to use it. His already impressive one-timer also has room to get even better as he improves his mechanics and gets stronger. Simply put, he has a goal scorer’s shot which is something that will always have value in the NHL.
Another impressive aspect of Suniev’s game is his overall compete level and motor. At both ends of the ice he’s always working to win puck battles and keep possession. Whether it be on the forecheck or backcheck, he’s a hound on the puck. Here’s what scout Sebastian High had to say about Suniev.
“He is tenacious all over the ice, which makes him a powerful puck carrier, pestering forechecker, and a defensively engaged winger. His off-puck habits are very strong. He’s a strong back checker, is consistently well-positioned, finds space offensively very well, and consistently attacks the slot and the middle lane offensively.”Sebastian High on Aydar Suniev
Combined with his size, Suniev’s relentless pursuit of the puck makes him a tough player to play against at both ends of the ice. He’s just always engaged at both ends and never takes a shift off. NHL coaches will love him and what he can bring to the table as he’s consistently one of his team’s hardest working forwards on the ice.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of Suniev’s game is just how smart he is. It’s what makes him such a well-rounded player at both ends of the ice. He’s able to think the game at a high level to ensure he’s always in the right spot at the right time.
He’s consistently well positioned at both ends of the ice, which combined with his size and reach can be a dangerous combo. He’s able to find space offensively and recognize gaps in the defence to utilize his strong shot.
His strong hockey IQ also leads to some surprisingly strong playmaking skills. He possesses great vision and is able to find teammates in the offensive zone with strong passes. In particular he’s great along the wall and operates as a passing and shooting presence on the powerplay. This allows him to be a threat as both a goal scorer and a passer.
Below is a great highlight package showcasing Suniev’s skills and what makes him a dangerous player offensively.
Suniev’s areas of improvement
Suniev really doesn’t have many weaknesses in his game, however his one main weakness is the reason he was drafted in the third round and is not a guarantee to play in the NHL.
Without question Suniev’s biggest weakness and the area he must work on the most if he hopes to make the NHL one day is his skating. It’s not that he’s a terrible skater or doesn’t have good north-south speed, he just lacks explosiveness and overall agility in his skating. He’s quite sluggish when attempting to change direction quickly and has overall slow feet.
He also lacks separation speed in his skating, which could cause him a lot of trouble as he plays at higher levels where opposing players are faster. It hasn’t caused him major issues thus far, but at higher levels like the NCAA and eventually the AHL he could run into trouble if he doesn’t improve as he’ll struggle to keep up.
A good comparison in this regard would be Mark Stone, who similarly slipped in his draft year due to his poor skating ability. Stone was able to work on this over the years and has developed into one of the league’s best wingers. That’s not to say Suniev is the next Stone, but it just goes to show that a player can improve a tonne after being drafted even if they have major weaknesses in their game.
Suniev’s next steps
As of right now, Suniev has committed to the University of Massachusetts for the coming season where he will make his debut as a freshman in the NCAA. It’ll be interesting to see how Suniev is able to adapt to a higher level of hockey playing against quicker skaters.
It’s very likely Suniev will spend at least a couple seasons in college before making the jump to pro hockey in the AHL. As mentioned he still has plenty of work to do on his skating before he’ll be ready for pro hockey, so the Flames will give him all the time he needs to improve.
Projection with the Flames
For a third-round pick, Suniev possesses a surprisingly high ceiling. He’s just so well-rounded already at 18 years old that it’s hard to imagine him not becoming at least a depth forward in the NHL one day. That said, if he can improve his skating then there’s an entire other realm of potential for him. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler listed Suniev as one of the only players available in his range that has top-six upside, presuming he improves his skating.
It really all depends on how much Suniev can improve his skating over the next couple years. He doesn’t have to become an elite skater by any means, but he needs to improve his overall speed and agility if he hopes to become an impactful NHLer in the future. If he can, I can see a role for him as a middle-six power forward for the Flames one day.
Here’s more information for every player a part of the Calgary Flames’ 2023 NHL Draft class: