Monday, January 11, 2010

Weighing Expectations

I've been trying all year to weigh my expectations when it comes to young PK Subban. As soon as he began to dominate the World Junior Hockey Championships in December of 2008 the mouths of Habs fans everywhere began to salivate. Many began to boast that we'd stolen the next Bobby Orr in the second round, while others cautioned not to overrate someone just because he was drafted as a Canadien. Some even went so far as to say he was a sure bust because of his lack of defensive skills in his own zone. For me I saw PK has a can't miss prospect, not yet NHL ready but when he is, will be a super star or near it for many years. However like all people with strong opinions I was slightly worried about how he would fair against tougher competition in the AHL. Halfway through the season both Subban and the Bulldogs are buzzing under the tutelage of Guy Boucher. Is PK Subban the next Bobby Orr and poised to take the NHL by storm at any moment? No, but he is likely the best player (not goaltender) drafted by the Canadiens since Tomas Plekanec, and the best defenseman since Andrei Markov.

Offensively Subban is exactly as reported by scouts. As a rookie PK Subban is the highest scoring defenseman, and 5th overall in rookie scoring with 9 goals, 18 assists and 27 points in 39 games. Even more impressive is that Subban is 2nd overall in scoring among defensemen in the AHL, only one point being Jonas Junland of Peoria. Subban is also tied for 1st overall in goals among all AHL defensemen. He's not one to pass up chances either, Subban happens to be tied for 38th overall in shots on goal in the AHL as well. This is all despite a fairly slow start for PK that saw him get only 3 assists his first 10 games, 6 points over the first 17, and only one goal to speak of over that period. The vast offensive improvement after this really speaks to how well Boucher has gotten Subban to adjust to the professional level.

Defensively coming into the season was where many a naysayer balked at PK Subban as a prospect. "He's too raw in his own zone" was the most common criticism. These criticisms were in spite of Subban leading the Belleville Bulls in plus/minus last season with a +47 mark over just 56 games. Many credited the powerhouse Belleville Bulls for his obscene numbers and the lack of defensive play at the junior level. Well it just to happens that Subban is second in the AHL in plus/minus this season with an amazing +22 after just 39 games. He was 1st for awhile before having an off game against Milwaukee where he went -3. I fully expect him to be 1st in plus/minus before long again as his play has been fantastic since mid-November.

Another knock on Subban coming into the season was that he was a soft player. Well his 45 penalty minutes put him near the top of the team on the Bulldogs, and indicate that he's maturing physically with several roughing calls and even a fight. In fact thus far in the season Subban's most impressive game was likely on December 31st against Detroit's farm team the Grand Rapids Griffins as he put up a goal, 2 assists, with 2 shots, a fight and a massive +4.

This kid is a damn good hockey player. He has the skills and attitude to be a superstar in the NHL and I can't see any reason why he won't be. I'm happy that Montreal is not treating PK the same way they have with Latendresse and Pacioretty in bringing them up too soon. I would like to see Subban stay in the AHL for the rest of this season as well as most of next year at the least to get him seasoned before breaking in as an NHL rookie. With dimensional speed and skating ability, an extremely solid yet average sized frame and offensive instincts similar to Mike Green of the Capitals, this kid is for real and I'm done holding back my excitement for him as a prospect.