Habs Top 25 Under 25: #2 P.K. Subban

What is there left to say about P.K. Subban? A year ago Subban surprised Habs fans by seamlessly transitioning from the AHL to the NHL playoffs where he was a key asset in ousting the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, especially after Andrei Markov went down. After dominating the AHL and setting a Hamilton Bulldogs record for goals for a defenseman, many were still skeptical about Subban's ability to become a regular in the NHL.

Subban seems to have quelled every doubter he had in a single season. At the beginning of the season, many of his critics were right in that he wasn't responsible defensively and he took far too many risks. For a time it looked like he was in Jacques Martin's doghouse for good, but after sitting a few games in November, Subban stepped up big time as the Montreal Canadiens lost both Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges.

While Subban struggled to adapt to NHL defense, his offense also suffered. He only registered 11 points in his first 33 NHL games, along with just 2 goals. Once given a heavier workload and unshackled from being paired with Alexandre Picard; Subban exploded with 12 goals and 27 points in the last 44 games. Over that time he also joined Hal Gill on the top pairing on the penalty kill. A daunting task for a rookie to begin with, made even more challenging by the fact that Montreal spent more time on the penalty kill than any team in the league. What's most surprising about Subban's season is that while he was excellent offensively, his defense is what truly stood out.

After the trade for James Wisniewski, Subban was relied on by Jacques Martin to face the top lines of other teams every night as Roman Hamrlik and Wisniewski mopped up the secondary match-ups. While facing that high end competition Subban managed to put up the 8th best relative Corsi among defensemen who played 60+ games. Impressively Subban's Corsi numbers are padded by his own shot total, also 8th among defensemen. The numbers suggest that while Subban was on the ice, the Canadiens had possession of the puck far more often than their opponents at even strength.

After setting a rookie record in the AHL Subban nearly matched the Habs goalscoring record for rookie defenseman as well. In the end Subban fell 1 goal short of Guy Lapointe's 15 goal rookie season, but to edge so close to one of the all time greats is an indicator that we have one heck of a goal scorer on our hands. Only 5 defensemen managed outscore Subban this the NHL last season, one of whom is perennial all-star and certain first ballot hall-of-famer Nicklas Lidstrom.

To put Subban's goal totals in context; only one rookie defenseman has outscored Subban in the last 13 seasons, and that was Dion Phaneuf, who at the time was considered a phenom.

STRENGTHS: Subban is a star in the making, maybe even a super-star. Right now the sky is the limit. His instincts in all three zones are elite. Subban's hockey IQ might actually be his greatest strength. The speed at which he absorbs knowledge or instruction from his coaches or Hal Gill is exceptional.

Within 50 NHL games (including playoffs) Subban went from an offensive minded, defensive risk; playing on the 3rd pairing, to a clear cut #1 defenseman who's able to carry inferior partners and make them look good while they play above their depth. No offense meant to Gill, but he's not a top pairing defenseman.

Over this same time frame Subban has managed to adopt the greatest strengths of Gill's game in defensive positioning and stick checking.

Back in May, Chris Boucher illustrated the growth in Subban's game in this report. Subban had the highest number of positive events per minute played during the playoffs among defensemen, and the second best risk/reward rating next to James Wisniewski, who played against weaker competition. Subban also played significantly more minutes than any other Habs player in the series against Boston.

Subban's bread and butter however is his one-timer. If Subban gets a crisp pass at the top of the left circle, it's in the back of the net. Former Hab Mike Johnson of TSN remarked during the year that only a handful of guys in the NHL can one-time the passes that P.K. launches into the mesh. And his penchant for scoring those goals at crucial times is something to marvel at, just ask Tim Thomas:

P.K. Subban ties game late in 3rd 4/27/11 (via NHLVideo)

He is far from a one trick pony however as he has a dangerous wrist shot and seems to be able to out-wait defenders and force them into mistakes to get his shots on net.

Subban is also an elite level skater. His top speed isn't quite up there with Matthew Lombardi or Andrew Cogliano, but his explosiveness is frankly, unbelievable. His agility in changing speeds allows him to blow by players with ease, and he gets back into plays to cover up his rare mistakes more often than not.

I would also argue that Subban's ability to get other players off of their games is a big strength. Whether through bone rattling, entirely legal checks or chirping; Subban became one of the most hated players in the NHL last season. For a look at some of Subban's strengths, check out the following video.

PK Subban - How Ya Like Me Now? (via cmrose16)

WEAKNESSES: There are obvious weaknesses in Subban's game but they're so minor and present in the games of all players that they are hardly worth mentioning. During last season in the NHL, in the AHL the year before and in junior before that, Subban had the reputation for being very undisciplined. Towards the end of last year however, especially during the playoffs, Subban really held himself in check. Not retaliating or engaging with Bruins players outside of the whistles seemed to drive them even crazier than the chirping he did during the season. After taking 124 PIM in 77 games during the season, he only took one penalty (in game 2) in the entire 7 game series vs Boston.

Subban has a tendency to play on the riskier side of the puck, taking chances that most defenders wouldn't. Fortunately he has the instincts, skill and speed to make up for it when those risks turn out bad.

While Subban's scoring level was fantastic last season, his assist total wasn't up to par with his skill level. It's possible that Subban's numbers may have suffered because of Montreal's lack of offense last season, but more effective playmaking will be expected of him this season with the loss of Wisniewski.

Perhaps the only major weakness in Subban's game at the moment is that he takes himself out of the play too often while going for the big hit. It's a familiar flaw for Habs fans as we saw Mike Komisarek do it all the time and get victimized. While we all love the big hits, Subban may have to be more careful in his picking his spots in the future.

FUTURE: Big things are expected of Subban next season. With the departure of Hamrlik and the uncertain stability of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges' knees he has no room for a sophomore jinx. Subban also won't be given the grace period of 30+ games this season to get the offense going. Now that he's built himself up to be a fan favourite, the expectations will be astronomical and he has to back it up. With Markov likely back in the lineup to start the season, Subban won't be thrust into the #1 defenseman role, so it is possible that more production will be expected out of him at even strength as he either gets placed against weaker competition than last year, or gets paired with Markov to form an elite pairing instead of Gill to form a good one..

It's hard to imagine Subban not becoming a perennial all-star in the NHL, possibly even competing for the Norris Trophy within a couple of years. He's the kind of talent that the Canadiens haven't had in my lifetime outside of the goal crease, and his personality is a draw that any hockey market would envy. The obvious friendship between Subban and Carey Price is infectious. With these two young stars in the lineup it finally looks like the Canadiens are headed in the right direction after 17 seasons of frustration.

P.K Subban and Carey Price "Triple-Low 5" (via hockeykid2738)

 

#3: Max Pacioretty #2: P.K. Subban
#1: Carey Price
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