There is less than a month remaining in the American Hockey League’s 2015-16 regular season schedule, and as spring approaches even first-year pros have appeared in as many as 65 games. Injuries and call-ups have taken their toll across the league, but the Utica Comets – AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks – have seen several top scorers either called up or traded.
The roster moves have left rookie defenseman Jordan Subban as one of the Comets’ top scorers heading down the stretch run with the Comets in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference’s North Division.
“That’s part of this league. Sometimes the big team makes moves to help their team and sometimes the big club makes moves to help the AHL team,” Comets head coach Travis Green said, referencing losing then leading scorer Hunter Shinkaruk in a trade between Vancouver and Calgary. “There’s so much movement in this league [that] we never dwell on guys going to call-ups or traded – it’s an opportunity for other players.”
Other players have stepped up for the Comets down the stretch since Shinkaruk’s departure, but Subban in particular has caught the eye of the coaching staff.
“We’ve had a lot of guys this year as the season has gone on that are progressing, which is what you want,” Green explained, adding, “He’s progressed and been one of our most improved players.”
Although Subban is an offensive defenseman by trade, he has put in a lot of time and work on getting better defensively. He has tallied 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his last 22 games but has been more defensively responsible as evidenced by a +2 rating in that span.
“For sure, I think my main focus this year is to try and be better in my own end, and I feel like I’ve done a good job of that this year,” Subban explained earlier this season after a win over Lehigh Valley. “There was an adjustment period the first maybe 10 to 15 games. I have a lot of great older guys helping me out and a great coaching staff so it’s a little easier than it might have been, but it’s been good so far. I just want to continue to focus on getting better and hopefully play in the NHL.”
Subban has tallied 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 58 games this season, but his coach further explained that the goal is to develop Subban into a two-way defender that is reliable in all three zones.
“He’s got an offensive flare, obviously an offensive defenseman,” Green said of his first-year defenseman. “The thing we have harped on him is to play a 200-foot game – to be able to defend in his own zone – because it doesn’t matter how good you are offensively if you can’t defend. He’s put in a lot of hard work and he listens.”
As is the case with most young defensemen, patience and developing takes time. There is no questioning Subban’s offensive abilities, but for his game to translate to the next level he will need to continue to work on tightening up things in his own end.
“I think with young defenseman, it’s time,” Green said. “Time is the biggest asset for him. We’re not rushing him. I’d like to see where he is 2 to 3 years from now. He’s not the biggest guy, it’s probably going to take him a little time but if [he] keeps progressing and working out and getting stronger, I like his chances.”
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