September 10, 2013

Subban hits the right notes, prepares for pro challenge

By Kirk Luedeke

Goaltender Malcolm Subban is joining the pro ranks after rocking a .934 save percentage in 46 games for the OHL's Belleville Bulls last season. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla.—Although the numbers may not reflect it, Malcolm Subban had a positive impact at his first professional rookie tournament for the Boston Bruins last weekend.

There is no question that Subban, the 24th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, possesses some of the best physical tools of any prospect in the B’s organization.  Although his technique is still a work in progress, the former Belleville Bulls star is poised to ease into the AHL in Providence this season by virtue of his Dec. 1993 birthday, which makes him eligible for full-time minor league duty.

“Learning and picking up everything as quick as I can,” Subban told New England Hockey Journal in South Florida when asked what he was most focused on entering his first pro campaign. “It’s a huge jump from junior, but I’m just going to take it all in and learn as much as I can.”

Although cynics might point to Tuukka Rask’s eight-year contract extension in the offseason as a sign that Subban could be on the move at some point, one just need reminding that Rask was acquired way back in 2006, yet did not establish himself as the true Boston starter upon Tim Thomas' departure. Even with the lengthy extension, the B's believe there is room in the crease for both Rask and Subban when the time comes.

“You just have to play your game and focus on stopping pucks, getting wins and not much else,” said Subban. “I’m just going to try to play as well as I can when given the opportunity.”

An instinctive player and quick study who came to the position later in life after spending his early organized hockey years as a skater at both forward and on defense, the Bruins believe that Subban has the natural talent to develop into an elite goaltender. He’ll have to be patient and bide his time in the minors first, and then later as Rask’s likely backup, but the payoff could be big.

“He made some very athletic saves,” said Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy after Subban’s start against the Tampa Bay rookies. “He tracked pucks very well from the point. There’s a couple from the slot I’m sure he’d like back where he was a little leaky, but all in all I thought he played well.”

How much Subban will play in the AHL season depends on how quickly he makes the adjustment. With the league’s top goalie from the regular season a year ago in front of him in Niklas Svedberg, or an experienced AHL starter in Chad Johnson available if Svedberg beats the free agent signee for Boston backup duty, the plan is to bring the 19-year-old along slowly, at least initially.

“The biggest thing is not changing anything,” said Subban on his approach to preparing for the bigger challenge of the pro ranks. “Obviously there are going to be bad days where I’m adjusting to the speed of the next level, the pro level, and obviously that’s a huge thing I’ll have to improve. It’s a lot faster than junior.”

His older brother, P.K., fresh off a Norris Trophy earned in the 2013 lockout-shortened season has been a source of help and support for both Malcolm and younger sibling Jordan, a third-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks last June.

“I skate with him on Wednesdays and he’s pretty tough on me, so that I think that’s the best thing,” Subban said.

Signed to a three-year entry-level contract and on the longer-term plan, Subban is in a good place where he can establish himself gradually without the added pressure of being expected to be a franchise savior right away.

Seven years ago, Rask was in the same position and Boston’s patience paid off, so the question is whether Malcolm Subban can follow a similar path to NHL success. Time will tell, but so far, Subban has justified the B's confidence in him.

Scouting report: Elite athlete; has good height, long limbs and a lean build, perfect for the position. Explosive crease movements and telescoping allow him to challenge shooters and react quickly to laterally developing plays. Lightning-fast leg pads and recovery ability make him tough to beat down low. Quick glove, but still refining his style to conserve energy and motion. Has a tendency to play deep in his net; needs to improve rebound control. Diligent worker and good teammate; has all the earmarks of a future No. 1 in the NHL, but will have to bide his time and make the most of the chances he gets to earn playing time inside the Bruins organization.

Twitter: @kluedeke29