As Far As Long Shots Go, I’d Put My Money on Jordan Subban

Subban

(Photo credit: Sarah Hobday)

Going into the 2015 Young Stars Classic in Penticton, the talk of the town was Oilers’ gift and future superstar Connor McDavid. To be sure, he didn’t disappoint. In the single game he played, he showed flashes of what is to come, though he was limited to a powerplay assist and a flimsy first goal.

If you’re a Canucks fan, you were probably more interested in Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Cole Cassels – three of their most hyped prospects, all of which missed last year’s tournament with various ailments. And again, while they have been impressive in their own rights – Virtanen with his trademark murderous physicality and breakaway speed, and McCann with his patented wrist shot – the Canucks most impressive player for my money has been Jordan Subban, in his third Young Stars appearance.

While Subban has always been flashy, he’s been consistently dismissed to some degree due largely to his size – at 5-foot-9, he doesn’t have many professional comparables. Going into his third season in the Canucks organization, though, Subban is demonstrating an unyielding determination to overcome the odds.

Jordan Subban was selected in the fourth round (115th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the same draft that also boasts Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk and Cole Cassels, giving it the potential to be the Canucks strong draft class since.. I don’t know, 2004 I guess? They’ve all been so terrible…

At the time of his draft, the majority of the talk around Subban was due to the fact that his oldest brother, P.K. Subban was a burgeoning NHL star. Canucks fans were thrilled – offensive defencemen of that caliber don’t come around that often. If Jordan could even be P.K.-lite, he would be a fantastic addition.

Of course Jordan came with a couple of caveats. For one, he played a very similar game to his brother, though with a bit less skill. This was worrisome because P.K.’s saving grace is his offensive ability – his production makes up for his defensive lapses. If Jordan was prone to the same offensive bias but without the skill to convert, he wouldn’t likely have much use as an NHLer.

The other major issue was his size. At just 5-foot-9, his height alone was enough of a reason for many to write him off before even seeing him. Nearly half a foot below the NHL average for a defenceman (~6’2”), Subban was looking at an uphill battle to say the least. Of course, with the right mindset, some can thrive under those odds.

Two Years Later

Outside of some black magic voodoo and questionable pseudoscience, Subban doesn’t have much control over how tall he can become. So he’s turned to something he did have control over: strength. Subban drew attention earlier in the year with his beastly lifts.

#gains new pb today @laylorsystems #legsfeedthewolf

A video posted by subbs95 (@subbs95) on

In the two years since Jordan Subban was drafted, the increase in strength and muscle may be the most obvious improvement, but it is certainly not the only one. His offensive game, which drew attention to begin with, continued to grow to new heights. After scoring 15 goals in his draft year, Subban potted just 12 goals in his draft+1 season – however the team took a nosedive that year, with Belleville’s points percentage going from .709 to .390. This past year, he exploded for a franchise-record 25 goals, many of which can be seen here.

According to CHLStats, Subban also led all OHL defencemen in Team Goal Percentage, with a mark of 13.09%.

Of course, offense has never been an issue, and although his output has been impressive, the improvements in his all-around game are just as important. After all, an increase in defensive responsibility is likely what it will take for Subban to advance to the next level, something he showed his awareness of in this excerpt from earlier this year.

Offense is not the problem for Subban and he even scored a goal in preseason action before being returned to the OHL for the season. “I’m young, so obviously as a defenseman the defensive side of the game is pretty big for every young defenseman.” Subban said was his focus. ”Just try to get better in all are and, get bigger, faster, stronger and really take pride in playing in my own zone” Subban said was what he was instructed to work on.

Apparently he’s coming through on these instructions. At the 2015 Penticton Young Stars Classic, Subban was easily the most noticeable Canuck defenceman on the ice, and it wasn’t just on the rush – he made contributions in all areas and demonstrated the progress his game has made.

Defensive Zone

Subban was effective in front of the net during the Young Stars tournament, something that has been a bit of a weakness for him. Here he ties up Connor McDavid early in the first game, preventing a potential scoring threat and bringing the play by play commentator’s voice back down to a more reasonable octave.

Here he showed the ability to stick check effectively and subsequently fend off the opposing forward, essentially with one hand, as he exited the zone quickly.

The following clip is equally impressive, if not more so.

Subban demonstrates a remarkable amount of strength and determination in getting pucks out of his own end. The impressiveness of this should not be understated: it takes a high amount of core strength to battle this quickly and effectively. If Subban is able to transfer this ability to exit his own zone with apparent ease to the next level (i.e., the AHL), he is going to become an extremely valuable prospect. The willingness and ability to carry the puck out of the defensive zone time after time again are major factors that lead to increases in possession numbers and chances at the other team’s net.

During the Young Stars game against the Jets prospects, the Canucks Army writers in attendance tracked a number of #fancystats, including Zone Exits. Subban blew everyone else out of the water in this regard – he had 9 zone exits (5 carries and 4 passes), while the next highest was Guillaume Brisebois with 5.

Player Total Carry Out Dump Out (PK) Pass Out Pass Out (Miss)
Subban 9 5 0 3 1

Neutral Zone

Perhaps the most impressive part about Subban’s neutral zone play is that he hardly spends any time in it. As a rushing defenceman, he frequently carries the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone himself, and he routinely makes it look easy. Even against a group of NHL prospects, Subban rarely ran into trouble transitioning the puck from defence to offense – he either carried the puck straight through the neutral zone, or he made short, crisp passes that allowed a forward to enter the offensive. Almost every single one of Subban’s neutral zone touches resulted in the puck entering the offensive zone a short time later, something that cannot be said for the majority of defencemen at the tournament.

In the following play, Subban carries the puck from behind his own goal line all the way into the opposing zone, where he quickly stops and starts inside the blueline, momentarily confuses the enemy forwards, allowing him to find an open path to ring the puck around the boards.

In the next game, Subban picks off a pass from alleged budding star Nik Ehlers and carries through all three zones to put a shot on net from in close.

Once again, Subban tracked stats were very impressive in the neutral zone during the WInnipeg game. He was second on the team in Zone Entries (next to only Hunter Shinkaruk and tied with Dane Fox), and doubled the next highest defenceman. This included 4 carry ins, next to only Shinkaruk and Virtanen.

Player Total Carry In Dump In Pass In Pass In (Miss) Chip In
Subban 6 4 1 0 0 1

Offensive Zone

This is where Jordan Subban typically thrives, and the Young Stars Classic was not much of an exception. For a defenceman, he spends an inordinate amount of time deep in enemy territory. Not that anyone would be complaining – he’s so strong on the puck that he was a more effective forechecker than most of the forwards.

Unfortunately, this play, like most others that Subban contributed during the Young Stars Classic, did not lead to a goal. This is far from Subban’s fault – if he continues to push the play forward, he will undoubtedly eventually show up on the score sheet. During the tracked Jets game, Subban put up a CorsiFor% of 81% – an utterly dominant number. Even in a game in which the Canucks prospects completely dominated in terms of possession, the Canucks shot attempts percentage was still 8% higher when Subban was on the ice compared to when he was off it.

Player For Against C+/- CF% Off-ice CF% rel CF%
Subban 21 4 16 81 73 8.0

Neither the CHL leagues nor the AHL keeps track of possession statistics, so we don’t have many numbers to go on, but I would hazard a guess that Subban held a highly positive possession number (or at least relative to his team average) based on his style of play, and will continue to do so this season in Utica.

You hear the phrase “drives play” an awful lot in articles that reference advanced stats, but Jordan Subban represents this in the most essential sense – he is constantly responsible for moving the puck forward and creating the opportunity for teammates to put shot attempts towards the opposing net.

His defensive tactics have clearly improved as well. He breaks up opposing cycles, seemingly with ease, and quickly transitions the puck forward, often taking care of the zone exit himself.

Granted, he has yet to do this against true professional competition. However, the ease with which he performed these tasks against competition at the Young Stars Classic gives me hope that he will be able to make a positive contribution at the AHL level, at the very least.

2015-16 and Beyond

After completing his final year of junior, the 20-year old defender will move on the the American Hockey League and the Utica Comets this season. The Comets have recently gone through a large amount of turnover, especially on the backend. With Alex Biega and Andrey Pedan being the only returning members from last year’s Calder Cup Finalist squad (not counting John Negrin, sorry John), there will definitely be some ice time available for the taking.

With right shot powerplay threats Bobby Sanguinetti and Adam Clendening both in other organizations, and only Taylor Fedun to replace them, Subban should figure to get some second unit man advantage time pretty quickly. His competition for this spot will be Biega, who spent a fair amount of time on the second unit powerplay last season, but didn’t score any powerplay goals. Subban meanwhile had 8 powerplay goals last season for Belleville.

Whether there is NHL hockey in Subban’s future is still far from certain – the PCS tool strongly cautions against any sort of optimism in that regard, giving him a PCS% of all of zero percent. But for now, he is one of the most exciting prospects to watch. As far as long shot prospects go, if anyone is going to beat the odds, I’d put my money on Jordan Subban.

  • andyg

    Not sure why his size is an issue, can’t he convert to wing if he doesn’t work as a defenceman? He’d be a good addition to a powerplay since he could play point as a “forward” yet still have the PP unit have defensive capability. Small guys like Patrick Kane play a perimeter game so it’s not like there isn’t a place for small guys as forwards. He has more offensive potential than virtually all of the Canucks bottom six prospects combined.

  • andyg

    Jeremy I have to agree with you. The Young Stars tourney was the first time i have seen Subban play and i have to say i was impressed with his play and there were strokes of genius in a few instances.

    I too think he is the prospect sleeper and given the time it takes defencemen to develop fully, i think Subban will make the Canucks if he continues on his strength and conditioning regime.

    No 5 O

  • One of the things that’s really impressed me about Subban is his intelligence, both on and off the ice – in interviews he comes off as thoughtful and mature, and someone who obviously thinks a lot about the mechanics of the game and what he needs to do to be successful.

    As far as concerns about his height go, Mike Tyson is 5’10 and routinely clobbered guys with a 6″ height advantage and up to 12″ reach advantage on him. In sport, height is an advantage, but it’s not the only attribute that matters – if you’re strong, fast, and smart, you can still be elite. Seems like Subban checks all these other boxes.

  • Mantastic

    This was a good article. I really like the video footage of individual plays, It brings a certain appreciation for the somewhat elusive but fundamental skills of efficient, controlled skating and puck management

    Also, if you’re the younger brother of PK Subban, and have spent most of your life adapting your game to playing against PK Subban, you’re probably pretty good at playing against PK Subban, and most of the NHL is easier to play against than PK Subban.

  • Mantastic

    I agree that Jordan has the talent to play in the NHL after a couple years of seasoning and development in the AHL. I think he’s shown that he’s got the offensive skills to compete and contribute on the powerplay. I’m sure that he will continue to work on the defensive side of his game but this is true for all guys coming out of junior.

  • Mantastic

    Totally agree, I think Subban showed the best of any of the rookies there for us. I never saw him lose a puck battle (and often his wins looked like he was playing against children) and he always seemed to find the right place at the right time.

    IMO he’s the only guy in the system with a realistic possibility of top-two defense pairing for the Canucks and I’d love to see him get a call up this year to see what he can do (doubly love him to make it out of training camp at the expense of Sbisa, maybe they can trade him away if they soak some of his salary cap?).

    I was disappointed the second latest poll on the Canucks page asked who was the most impressive rookie from Young Stars and he wasn’t one of the four options.

  • wojohowitz

    Great article.

    One thing that Subban himself mentions (maybe it was in one of his blogs) is that he always skates with his head up. Looking at these videos you can really tell that this is true. As soon as he digs the puck out of a scrum he is heading up the ice and scanning for options. You can really tell that he thinks the game at a high level and an even higher pace.

    As one other poster said, his attitude and maturity is going to help him along the way. Unlike some small skilled guys who think things should be gifted to them because of their skill level, Subban comes across as coachable, enthusiastic, a good team-mate, and a great human being. He is someone that coaches will be willing to work with, and this should help him overcome some of the obstacles outlined in the article.

    Looking forward to what he can bring in training camp and going forward!

  • Mantastic

    The kid has an exceptional skill set.

    He also projects as a most cerebral and amicable young man.I am rooting for the kid to bulk up and do his time in the AHL to get his chance at becoming a regular Canuck.

  • andyg

    We are only caring 7 D so there will be call ups this year. I think this kid will excel at the pro level. Who knows,if he does well we may get a glimpse of him this year.

  • andyg

    Good article. I’m a bit curious as to how he ends up as a zero % possibility in the PCS model. Surely there are short defensemen (Rafalski and Krug come to mind immediately) albeit very few who are comparable?

    • Andy

      I’d love a deeper dive into his PCS to see how many cohorts he has, and how ‘distant’ famous comparables like Krug/Rafalski are (3″ taller, different leagues, etc)

  • Andy

    From everything I’ve seen of him, he seems to have the same kind of skill Salo had; he can go into the corner with 5 other guys and be the guy who comes up with and skates the puck out.

    I really liked him last year, too, and I think he’s going to have a hell of a year in Utica.

  • Mantastic

    Subban is just one of those guys…l

    He has all the talent in the world to make in the NHL, except he is small. In this environment everyone can do anything “if they just put their mind to it”. Well physics say if a bigger object hits a smaller object, the smaller one absorbs more damage.

    Now Jordan may be an Outlier, in that he can limit the hits he takes, increase leg strength to prevent 6’4 PF from getting to the net, or just be hockey saved enough to make up for the size factor.

    Fact is that the deck is stacked against him, but I am rooting for Jordan. How many cats do we all know that have friends that are great at X but aren’t genetically that guy?

    • andyg

      Actually, physics says the HEAVIER object carries more momentum. Subban can overcome that deficit to some extent (and largely already has).

      So, he may never be the D man who clears the net or throws big hits. Pair him with a player like Byfuglien (sp?) who can. That would be a pretty rocking duo IMO.

      • wojohowitz

        I agree pairing him with a bigger guy like Buff would help.

        Subban is the reason that Benning got rid of Cleandening. He is a smaller Dman with more talent than Adam. I really hope that Jordan plays 15 years in the league, but like I said the deck is stacked against him. Just like Marcus Stroman in TO…. Once every 25 years a guy around 5’9 becomes a very good pitcher, Pedro was the last guy. These guys happen, but not very often.

        Actually bigger objects tend to crush smaller objects…l ever seen a mini van after being hit by a Semi? Mini vans are big, but not big enough.

  • Dirty30

    Stu Jackson passed on some tiny Canadian guy who certainly looked like he wouldn’t make it in the NBA. I think Steve Nash did okay.

    Sure, different sport, but if you can teach a trogdolyte like Brad Marchant to be reasonably successful at hockey, there’s no reason a player with Subban’s brains and sense of the game can’t be a success.

    He also has the important ‘character’ that Benning effuses about endlessly, but I think Subban can outplay plodders like Prust and Dorsett right now, even if he can’t throw any big hits — he’s at least much more capable of setting up a play than the other ‘character’ guys.

    The Canucks are in desperate need of a puck-moving D and that could be Subban.

    • andyg

      This kid is smart and driven to be an NHL player. So if he finds he can’t handle playing D at the pro level because of his size then he could switch.

      He would make the ultimate two way forward and still play the point on PP. There is too much there to give up on. He has top six talent if they ever switch him.

  • wojohowitz

    He’s the same size as Torey Krug and 4 years younger. Krug’s a second pairing d-man who’s put up 40 and 39 point seasons, no reason to think Subban can’t do the same in Vancouver.

    The only thing playing against him is the fickle media in Vancouver who will start talking in a year that he’s a bust because he hasn’t made the team. The media is going to do to him what they did to Kassian, type cast him into something bigger than he is then knock him for not becoming the player his older brother is (like they did with Kassian and the Lucic comparisons)

  • wojohowitz

    Subban`s extreme upside might be comparable to Karlsson in Ottawa, a guy who became the center of attention because every time he gets the puck he moves it up the ice very quickly and uplifted his whole team with his skating and puck handling abilities. Karlsson was a huge difference maker to the Sens.

    • Mantastic

      so you’re saying a defensemen that won the norris and could score 70+pts a season, was a big factor for a team he was playing for? you don’t say…

      how does anyone compare a former 4th round pick, Subban to a former 1st round pick, Karlsson??? Subban had an OK amount points, but it wasn’t elite at the junior level by any stretch, now you think he’s comparable to a Norris winner, who can score over 70pts in the NHL? how delusional can someone get?

  • Mantastic

    @ Jeremy Davis

    Another good article. You have your finger on the pulse when it comes to Canucks prospects, which brings me to my comment. Could you write an article on player development. Something like the 101 of DVP. DVP is often mentioned, but what does it really mean. Detroit does it right(how), the Oilers wrong(why). What about Vancouver?

  • Dirty30

    The Ducks’ Sami Vatanen is 5’10 (a whole inch taller than Jordan, and they are listed at 183 and 185 lbs, respectively) and was chosen in the 4th round of the 2009 entry draft as an undersized but offensively gifted defenceman. After dominating his final season in the Finnish junior league, he had an excellent first AHL year (which included a cup of coffee in the NHL), played most of his second pro year in the NHL, and last year established himself as a mainstay on Anaheim’s power play and in their top 4. Subban’s career trajectory looks remarkably similar, and I’m optimistic that it might continue to be so.

    Let’s just hope Benning doesn’t bury him in favor of Sbisa continuing to see NHL ice.

  • wojohowitz

    Of the last 10 Norris Trophy winners only 5 were first round selections and one of the winners was a fourth round pick. Karlsson`s game is not big but very fast – just like Subban`s game.

      • Mantastic

        Canucks highest scoring Defenseman is Edler with 31 points last year. The Canucks were 3rd worst in the league last year for production from the Blue line.

        If PK scores 70 I’m ok if mini Subban can make the Canucks and score 40 or 50 points. Ecstatic actually given the lack of offensive D in the Canucks prospect pool.