Image via Matthew Henderson
When the Canucks hit the breaks on Jordan Subban’s draft day freefall by selecting the diminutive Belleville Bulls blue-liner in the fourth-round of the 2013 NHL entry draft, the general consensus in the industry was that the pick was something of a steal. That’s an assessment that I and the other writers at CanucksArmy obviously share considering where Jordan Subban finds himself ranked on our top-20 Canucks prospects list.
The skinny on Subban is that he’s an extraordinarily talented puck moving defenceman with a deceptive shot from the point and high-end skating ability. Subban was available in the fourth-round this past June, however, because his projected development carries a well above average degree of risk for a variety of reasons. We’ll get into those reasons after the jump.
Fortunately for the purposes of this profile, I saw Subban play pretty regularly last season because his Bulls teammate Brendan Gaunce was Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2012. I can tell you that I came away mostly impressed with Subban’s skillset and performance.
Subban the youngest is an electrifying skater; the type of defenceman who can puncture an opposition’s forecheck with his feet at the OHL level. He’s got that waterbug quality and it certainly looks to me like Subban’s speed through the neutral zone will translate at the professional level. Subban’s also solidly shifty and uses his feet really well on the big ice surface in Belleville (the Bulls play on an international sized sheet).
While Subban’s play in his own end will need to develop significantly if he’s to join his older brother in "the show," I can’t think of a sequence where Subban stood out to me as a liability when the puck was in Belleville’s end. From what I’ve seen, Subban’s decision making is solid too: he doesn’t skate himself into trouble often and he isn’t prone to costly turnovers, which is pretty rare for a young defenceman who is frequently counted on to carry the puck through the neutral zone. That said, Bulls coach George Burnett rarely used Subban when Belleville was short-handed.
Subban doesn’t have a blistering bomb of a slap-shot from what I’ve seen, and I don’t think he projects as the type of player you’d install at the point of an Umbrella or a 1-3-1 formation on an NHL power-play. But that doesn’t really matter much since Subban gets more than his share of scoring chances on the rush. He does well to find lanes and shoot pucks past the first defender, and has a polished release on a dangerous wrist shot that he uses frequently.
That wrist shot probably deserves it’s own sentence or two, because it’s a plus weapon in Subban’s arsenal and is a testament to his skill level as a defenceman. Another testament to his skill level? Subban was often used in the shootout by Belleville last season. And not like the Canucks used Edler, Subban is legitimately really good in the skills competition.
Subban doesn’t just ace the eye-test, his statistical profile is equally tantalizing. With Subban on the ice the Belleville Bulls outscored opponents by twenty-six at even-strength last season, controlling an outrageous 61.8% of goal events.
Among first-time draft eligible CHL defenceman last season, Subban was fifth in goals-per-game and third in points-per-game (despite playing on a somewhat offensively challenged team in Belleville). The only defenceman drafted in 2013 who produced offense more efficiently than Jordan Subban did in the CHL last season was Seth Jones(*).
(*) Fun fact: the only other draft eligible defenceman who produced offense more efficiently than Subban was a guy I’d never heard of named Nikolas Brouillard who plays in the QMJHL, was undrafted, is listed at 150 pounds, and should eat more cheeseburgers.
How good was Subban’s 2012-13 season offensively? Well his production in his draft eligible season compares favourably with the likes of recently drafted OHL defenceman Darnell Nurse, Alex Pietrangelo and his brother PK Subban. Not terrible company.
Of course the thing about Nurse, Pietrangelo and Subban the eldest, and this is where the tone of this prospect profile changes dramatically, is that those three players faced the opposition’s best players on a regular basis. You can’t really say that about Jordan Subban at this point.
For the Belleville Bulls defencemen Stephen Silas, Jake Cardwell and Brady Austin faced the stiffest competition among according to our in-house quality of competition metrics (which are based, rather prehistorically, on goal events). I can tell you from watching an awful lot of the OHL playoffs that Silas and Cardwell were most certainly Belleville’s most frequently used pairing in the postseason. That allowed Subban and teammate Jake Worrad to beat up on secondary competition.
We might also mention that Subban’s role diminished as his club went deeper into the postseason, and his production dried up in Belleville’s 17 playoff games. Understandably Bulls coach George Burnett preferred to lean on his older and presumably more dependable (in his view) defenders. That Subban was somewhat "protected" by Belleville coaches is a bit of a red flag, and critical context which should augment the way we view Subban’s impressive offensive production last season.
The other issue, and surely the primary one that caused Subban to plummet into the latter half of the fourth round on draft day, is his size. There simply aren’t many everyday defenceman in the National Hockey League who measure in at 5,9. A couple of shorter defenceman who’ve had productive careers in the NHL come immediately to mind (Brian Rafalski, Brian Campbell and Francois Boullion, for example), but the rigors of the position and the preferences of National Hockey League teams are biased against defenceman with Subban’s physical stature.
Subban’s usage last season is a modest cause for concern, especially when you consider that part of the risk with Subban is that he’ll need to be a heavily protected power-play specialist type (along the lines of a Marc-Andre Bergeron) or a career AHLer, as opposed to a player capable of taking a regular shift against top-six competition.
Of course his height will also work against him as he works his way through major junior and up to the professional ranks. But ultimately if Subban is quick enough, and strong enough, and smart enough, and all around talented enough to play in the league, his height won’t diqualify him.
Despite Subban’s gaudy statistical profile and the fact that he’s skilled and damn fun to watch play the game, we shouldn’t downplay the risks in his projection. Obviously these concerns were sufficient to drop Subban’s draft stock to the point where he was passed over multiple times by every team in the league.
The flip side of that coin however, is that any time you manage to pick up a player with Subban’s resume and skill set that late in the draft: you’ve done pretty well for yourself value-wise.
Obligatory Subban highlight video (worth your time because, as previously mentioned, he’s fun to watch):