There’s no question that Jordan Subban has more tangible obstacles than your typical prospect standing between himself and a future in professional hockey. Beyond just the unfair comparisons that he draws in the wake of his older superstar of a brother, there isn’t exactly ample precedence for a player of his physical stature in today’s NHL.
Listed at 5’9”, 175 lbs, he doesn’t just fall well short of the average for the types of athletes that comprised the position last season; his diminutive frame barely registers him on the relative spectrum. Out of the 303 defensemen that the NHL lists on its page, only 5 of them – Francis Bouillon, Jared Spurgeon, David Warsofsky, Torey Krug, and Mark Cundari – suited up in a game last season while being listed at 5’9” or shorter.
While that’ll surely make finishing off future alley oop passes from Henrik Sedin with any sort of authority a difficult task, it fortunately doesn’t take away from the current reality that Jordan Subban remains verifiably effective as a hockey player.
Generally speaking, there seems to be a noteworthy correlation between the degree to which a CHL defenseman produces while he’s playing at Major Junior, and the likelihood that he’s able to stick around at the NHL level in the years to come. Intuitively, this makes sense. The talents that were able to sneak through the whittling down process and carve out professional careers of their own should’ve in theory been able to thrive when the competition was significantly softer. Otherwise they likely wouldn’t have made it to that point.
In Jordan Subban’s case, his electrifying skating and relatively polished offensive game translated to eye-popping numbers in his draft year, where he registered 15 goals and 51 points in 68 games with the Belleville Bulls. Despite the aforementioned concerns about his size, the non-zero chance that he’d be able to continue to develop and eventually translate some of that displayed skill at the next level made him a no-brainer as a 4th round pick (and one whose upside made for an unfortunately surprising rarity coming from the Ron Delorme Era of drafting).
On the surface, it would appear that Subban took something of a lateral, if not backwards, step this past season. His output dropped from 0.75 points per game to 0.64, which is hardly what you’d like to see from a drafted player with another year of supposed growth and development under his belt.
However, context is always key. Subban’s 42 points still placed him 15th in OHL scoring for defensemen (out of the 139 registered blueliners with at least 30 GP), and 46th amongst all CHL defensemen. The fact that he still managed to remain productive amidst all of the carnage that surrounded him – on a Bulls squad that won 19 fewer games than it had the previous year, selling off all of the parts that weren’t tied down during a rebuilding season – is an encouraging one. Especially since, at least by our estimates, he was tasked with handling the tough minutes on the team.
It’s not all that difficult to see how he managed to do that, given the prolific personal highlight package he put together below:
I was fortunate enough to speak with John Matisz, who became familiar with Subban’s exploits during his time putting together his book on fellow Canucks prospect (and former Bulls teammate) Brendan Gaunce:
“First things first, Jordan is no P.K. You never want to pigeonhole a player’s potential, but it’s highly unlikely Jordan hits superstar status at the NHL level. He is three inches shorter (5-foot-9) than his older brother and doesn’t have man-strength (this could change). There are flashes of P.K. in Jordan’s game — he is a puck-moving defenceman who can make a solid first pass, work the point on the power play and is one of the best-skating blueliners in the OHL.
But, overall, Jordan is less aggressive and less effective at both ends of the ice. Jordan plays on a poor Belleville team and, as a 19-year-old fourth-year player, will eat up plenty of minutes this coming season. He’s developed at a steady rate since joining the OHL but still has a ways to go before he’s able to permanently stick on a pro hockey team’s roster.“
It would be outlandish to compare Jordan to his brother beyond the blood they share and the common position that they play, but it’s worth at least mentioning that PK had a similar dip in production between his draft-year and draft+1 year (from 15 goals and 56 points in 68 games down to 8 goals and 46 points in 58 games). The following season, PK went supernova for a 1.36 points/game clip before moving on to the AHL.
In the hopes of getting a better future outlook for Subban, I spoke with Buzzing the Net’s Neate Seager about what lies in wait for both the player and his team this coming season:
“I wouldn’t call Subban’s post-draft season in Belleville a home run, nor would I say he went sideways. The game was fairly easy for him as a 17-year-old on a team that loaded up in 2012-13. He certainy seemed fine when the opportunity for him to rush the puck, initiate offence and pick his spots materialized. It’s just that the Bulls were very young and that created a lot of work that usually isn’t entrusted to an 18-year-old on the small side. The lack of power-play finishers likely also affected his point totals, as it did for Ryan Murphy when he played in Kitchener.
I do not foresee Belleville contending, even in the East Division. It’s in flux until we see whether Kingston, Oshawa and Peterborough respectively retain Sam Bennett, Michael Dal Colle and Nick Ritchie back from the NHL. Ottawa is a wild card, too, due to several factors — the coaching change, the return to their home rink, having Travis Konecny as their centrepiece. The Bulls will have some good building blocks up front with Remi Elie, Stephen Harper and David Tomasek. Subban should be sounder in his own zone; it’s a big year for his growth, obviously.
There’s certainly potential for a Subban trade. A lot will depend on what Sarnia does in the Western Conference since Lightning first-rounder Anthony DeAngelo is the league’s best 19-year-old puck-moving defenceman. if DeAngelo’s not on the market, then Subban could command a big return.”
The situation in Belleville will bear monitoring, particularly as it relates to whether or not the squad around Subban is able to at least become competent enough to avoid dragging them down with him. It’s difficult to imagine the circumstances being less desirable than they were this past season, which can only mean good things for him and the help he’ll receive from the supporting cast.
There’s plenty of work yet to be done for Subban, and he’ll have time to do so seeing as he’ll be 19 years old up until the final month of the upcoming season. The question marks and uncertainty surrounding him are warranted, but his pure upside as a talent makes ranking him as the 3rd most highly rated defense prospect in the Canucks system a fairly easy decision for us.