Jordan Subban is no stranger to the Young Stars tournament. Now 21, the flashy defenseman who led the Utica Comets defence corps in scoring as a rookie last season is heading to his fourth prospects showcase with the Vancouver Canucks this weekend in Penticton. He’s hoping to put his years of experience to good use to make an immediate impression on the coaching staff and management.
“There is no time to ease in,” Subban says of being ready from the drop of the puck if he’s in the line-up for the first game on Friday night against Edmonton’s prospects. “From that first shift, you know everyone is going hard, and everyone has something to prove. You have to be ready mentally. Everyone’s had a great summer and is ready physically, so you have to be ready mentally.”
Subban will be among the leaders of this young group of Canucks hopefuls, and he’ll also share the spotlight with June’s top draft pick Olli Juolevi and highly-touted goaltending prospect Thatcher Demko. Expectations should be high for a player who’s battled through this level on multiple occasions.
The fourth round pick in the 2013 National Hockey League draft hopes to help his team win this weekend, but also has designs on setting himself apart with his performance. He wants the games in Penticton to serve as a springboard to the main camp the following weekend in Whistler and beyond.
“Everyone’s competitive, so you want to win,” he says. “But you want to play well and show you’ve had a good summer. Everyone has their year-end meetings and you want to show that you’ve taken what they told you and progressed over the summer.”
Listed at 5’9” and 178 pounds, the Rexdale, Ontario native made a relatively smooth transition to the professional game last season after four solid years in junior. Subban scored 11 goals and added 25 assists while generating 143 shots in 67 games in Utica. He credits Comets assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner with helping make the jump from junior but admits it wasn’t as simple as it may have seemed to some.
“Pro is a different game and it took me 15 or 20 games to really figure it out and get comfortable,” Subban says. “It’s great that I led our D in points last year, but for me it’s always been about focusing on the defensive side of the game. The offensive side has always been there. The game is changing a lot and you’re seeing more and more smaller defensemen. My size has never held me back or limited me. People are always going to bring that up and say those things, but I work hard and I’m a strong guy. It was never an issue last season.”
Two years ago, Subban not only had the chance to suit up in NHL preseason action but scored a goal in his Canucks exhibition debut. Last season, however, he was among the early cuts from camp and didn’t get the opportunity to play any preseason games. This time around, with a year of pro hockey under his belt, he’s hoping to earn a much longer audition with the Canucks.
Well aware of the names ahead of him on the Canucks defensive depth chart, Subban has virtually no chance to make the hockey club out of training camp. Then again, the same things were said about Ben Hutton a year ago. The Canucks appear deeper on defence now than they were just 12 months ago, so it’s unlikely that Subban can do enough to convince the club to keep him. But a solid showing in Penticton and Whistler and a chance to audition in the preseason could put Subban on the team’s radar at some point throughout the season.
“Obviously, opportunities are things you have to earn and when they’re given you have to take advantage of them,” he says. “If you’re not given a certain opportunity, there’s no sense fussing over it. Just work hard for the next one and when you get it, make the most out of it. Last year, I was down in Utica and my goal there was to develop and get better. I thought I was given a great opportunity and I think I did those things. This year, hopefully, it won’t be a call-up. Hopefully, I can just make it and stick.”
Getting to the NHL remains a steep hill for Jordan Subban to climb, but he believes he can get there – and soon. The trek begins again this weekend in the South Okanagan, where he wants to be – and based on his experience should be – among the best players in the Young Stars tournament.