(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.
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.
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)|
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|
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%|
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.