Subban on path to join siblings as a NHL draftee

By Jason Menard

Jordan Subban - Belleville Bulls

Photo: 2013 NHL Draft prospect Jordan Subban is currently leading the OHL's Belleville Bulls in scoring (courtesy of Leon T. Switzer/ Icon SMI)

The names on the back of the jersey may be the same, but each of the talented Subban brothers brings something different to the table. What they share, however, is an unwavering support for each other — and that support, along with two drafts’ worth of experience, is something that defenseman Jordan Subban holds dear.

“My brothers are who I go to for advice for the most part,” he said. “Being at the draft and seeing P.K. go through it in 2007 and then obviously last year with Malcolm — those are things that really helped me and giving me the experience heading into this year.

“My brothers have always been there to give me advice, so I’m going to continue to look to them for advice.”

One brother, P.K., is currently with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens. His other brother, while drafted by the Boston Bruins, is much closer in proximity — Malcolm can be found right behind Jordan manning the Belleville Bulls’ net. But Jordan said the position trumps brotherly love during the game.

“I just look at is as we have a good goaltender back there, someone that we can rely on heavily,” he said. “Obviously, with him being my brother it’s unique and special and fun, and it adds to the experience.”

That’s not to say the brotherly bond isn’t strong — and Jordan said it also helps the team dynamic.

“We get along well. I think that we can be honest with each other,” he said, laughing. “Especially since we’re defense and goalie, when I’m going back to the puck and he’s yelling at me for what’s coming — that helps our communication.”

It’s safe to say that the Subban name has helped to shine a spotlight firmly on Jordan as he approaches the NHL draft. The challenge comes in the fact that some see Jordan filtered through a P.K./Malcolm prism.

“I think we’re all different in our own ways. Me and P.K. are probably known for being more exuberant on the ice, a little more flamboyant in our celebrations at time. Malcolm’s more of a laid-back kind of guy,” Jordan said. “I think that a lot of people expect more of me. That’s fine. It doesn’t really bother me. I just do what I can to be the best player that I can.”

Jordan’s coach (and general manager) George Burnett said his brothers’ success, combined with the fact that Jordan was drafted fifth overall, have only served to distort the perspective.

“Unfortunately for Jordan, he’s come into this league with a lot more expectations than the other two: P.K. was a sixth-round pick and Malcolm was an 11th round pick who wasn’t expected to make the team in his second year of eligibility, but did and forced our hand to move some other goaltenders around to make space for him. [Malcolm’s] been a bit of a late developer and now Jordan’s come in as a top-five pick and there’s really no secrets,” Burnett said. “[Jordan’s] had a little more attention right from the get-go and again, the expectations for all of them are high. They’re highly motivated themselves, but he understands there’s lots of work to be done. He’ll have an off night, but he’ll come back and the next night play better — I think that’s a key.

“People who have done their homework appropriately on Jordan understand.”

Burnett added that he feels that P.K. Subban has been a positive influence on both of his younger brothers — but especially with Jordan, who like P.K plays on the blueline.

“People look at P.K. and they see a little cockiness and a little swagger and arrogance, but he brings the game with it. I think that’s something that [Malcolm and Jordan] have learned from him — they’re confident kids, but they’re also well grounded, great habits, eat right, train right,” Burnett said. “I think that’s where P.K.’s influence on the younger guys has really helped to allow them to know what’s important, how to spend your time, how to get along with older players. He learned by trial and error, but he’s been able to pass along those experiences to his younger brothers. Playing the same position as Jordan, I think it’s helped [Jordan], and yet circumstances with Jordan coming in have been significantly different.”

Jordan’s had a strong start to the season, leading the Bulls in scoring and performing at a nearly point-per-game pace to date. In 16 games, he’s scored three goals and added 11 assists — numbers that put him five points ahead of centre Brendan Gaunce for the team lead.

He’s also well on his way to shattering his totals from last season, where he netted five goals and finished with 20 points in 56 games. And while last year he finished the season with a minus-23 rating, this year his defensive statistics have improved somewhat — he finds himself with a minus-five rating through 16 games. But despite the pedigree and the stats, Central Scouting, for one, has been reticent — rating Jordan a “C”-level skater.

“I don’t really think about it too much. I just try to use that [rating] as a starting point and just focus on getting better,” he said. “Hopefully I can just keep playing well and get a higher ranking. There are a lot of other things that motivate me — trying to get better every day and trying to help my teammates win, that’s what motivates me more. That will always be in the back of my head, so to speak, as a starting point.

“I just try to do my best and help my team win. If I’m doing those things and thinking positive, everything will take care of itself. It’s always in the back of your head, but I know there’s a lot of time after the season ends to worry about those type of things, so for right now I’m just going to concern myself with what I can control.”

And one of those things that Subban has been trying to control? His defensive play.

“I think that my defensive zone, I worked hard on that over the summer and I had a chance to work on it during the under-18s,” he said. “That’s the thing that I take the most pride in. I’ve always been able to put up points, but it’s my D-zone that’s been a question for most people at least — it’s never really been a question in my mind.

“For me, just being able to prove how I can play in the defensive zone. I think I’ve been able to get off to a pretty good start — obviously, we’re only (16) games in and there’s a lot more of the season left. I just want to be consistent and keep it up for the rest of the year.”

Burnett said he’s always been pleased with the commitment to his own end that Jordan has displayed during his tenure with the Bulls.

“Defense has really never been a question,” he said. “We expect him to create offense, but I think that his willingness to learn and listen on the defensive side of the game, rely on great feet, great stick, great mind are the things that are going to allow him to play against guys who are two or three years older and a whole lot bigger. He’s in great shape and I think he’s only going to get better.

“It’s a little bit like P.K. in that everyone looks at the points and the power play ability. Being a really sound defensive player, being competitive enough to play against bigger and stronger guys in your own end of the rink, to go into the corner and come out with the puck — those are P.K.’s biggest attributes and I think that Jordan is improving in those areas but understands all he has to do to get better.”

One thing that may serve to depress Jordan’s stature — in the eyes of the scouts — is his stature. Listed at 5’9”, Subban is on the smaller side of the spectrum in terms of defensemen.

“What I lack in height I make up with effort, speed, and a good stick,” he said. “That’s one thing that I’ve never really been blessed to have is being bigger than everybody else. I’ve always just had to work through it and find ways. Last year was a tough transition a little bit because of that — I’m starting to find a way here and I’m confident that no matter where I play I’ll find a way to get through it.

“Obviously there’s bigger guys, but there are things I can do to get around that. I don’t have to win every battle physically — I can use my stick or my foot speed and try to use my head.”

Burnett added that the youngest Subban has been able to turn any challenges created by his height into a positive.

“Jordan is not the biggest from a stature standpoint, but I think his reliance on having great feet, great vision, and skill is extremely important if you’re going to play against bigger, stronger guys,” Burnett explained. “His ability to get in and out of traffic, his willingness to go in there and compete will allow him to do that. I certainly do think that he’ll be a pro. There may be a growth spurt there — who knows?”

Subban played in this summer’s Ivan Hlinka Tournament, earning gold with Team Canada. He said the experience was a confidence-boosting one for him, enabling him to see how he stacks up against the competition.

“That was a great experience — getting to play for the first time for Team Canada and being able to play against some of the best players overseas,” he said. “It showed me where I was against some of the best players and some of the best defensemen in the world for my age.”

And, in the future, he said he’d love to join eldest brother P.K., and older brother Malcolm (who likely will make the squad this year) in having the opportunity to wear the maple leaf at the World Junior Championships.

“Any time you get to play for Team Canada it’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “I’m going to keep working hard — if I can get a tryout, I’ll go there and work to make the team, but it’s not something I can think about right now.”

Burnett said he sees a lot of P.K. in Jordan’s game — although Jordan may be further ahead offensively at this point.

“He actually put up more points than P.K. did in his rookie year on a team that’s significantly different. He’s leading our team in scoring right now — I’m not so sure that’s a great thing in light of our lack of offense, but he’s been very strong for us early in the season here, and there’s a long way to go,” Burnett said. “There are a lot of similarities there and he’s ready for the challenge and he’s done a much better job of bringing a more mature approach to the game.

“He’s a kid and sometimes we forget that — on the odd occasion he’s going to have a tough night, and what I’ve seen is his ability to respond to adversity. If he has a turnover or a lost battle that creates a goal or a chance against, he’s not still sitting on that. He puts it behind him and moves on to the next shift, the next period, or the next game.”

Burnett added that he wants Jordan to continue to have that short memory as he’s counting upon the 17-year-old blueliner to play a key role in the squad’s offensive game for the foreseeable future.

“We want him to play a high-risk game at times, we want him to rush, we want him to be a part of the attack, and he does it so very well,” he said. “He reads the game well and anticipates the game well and I think that every experience you have, particularly at the international level, only goes to enhance your confidence and your ability to take the next step.

“Of course the expectations are there because the last name’s Subban, they understand he came in at an elite level and has played well internationally amongst the world’s best players. He’s a big part of helping us, similar to what his brother did for us — in year two, his draft eligible year, he became a very difficult defenseman to play against as well as putting up points and creating offense.”

For Jordan, he’s ready to assume the challenge — and is willing to do whatever it takes to improve his game.

“Obviously, D-zone is a huge thing, but I just want to work on… basically… everything,” he said “I’m just 17; I’m still young, so I want to keep getting better and reach my max potential.

“I’m never really satisfied with just one thing.”

And with fans salivating at the thought of two brothers playing on Original Six rivals, is there any part of Jordan that would love the idea of joining another classic franchise — perhaps his hometown Maple Leafs — to make it a rivalry trifecta?

“I’ve been asked that a few times and I always give the same answer,” he said, laughing. “I’m just going to be happy to be drafted — and it doesn’t matter where!”