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In the spotlight

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD - Typically accustomed to being the center of attention in Montreal, P.K. Subban made a point to start off his post-practice scrum by telling the media gathering that their focus should be on the Montreal Canadiens, not on when he will return to the lineup.

“No I won’t be playing tomorrow. And just for the record, I will obviously continue to keep skating with my teammates at practice but I think the focus needs to be on the team, not on me. It can’t be about when I’m going to make my return. I don’t even know that myself. I don’t think it’s fair for the rest of the guys to keep asking me when I’m going to come back,” lamented Subban, who patiently awaits the doctor’s green light but has nonetheless been travelling and practicing with the team. “It’s fun to hit the road with the group and be with the guys on the road. They help me out in practice to make sure I get my legs back under me. Conditioning wise I feel amazing. I just need to continue my treatment and continue getting rest.”

Subban certainly looked like he was back to his old self at Friday morning’s practice in Brossard, entertaining the crowd at the Bell Sports Complex with a thrilling puck handling display through a labyrinth of discarded pucks.

“In practice nobody is trying to throw any body checks my way. With actual games the biggest difference is giving hits and taking hits which are the most dangerous part of the game. I never put a timetable on my return. During my career I’ve had to play through injuries and play through being banged up. I don’t think you can go six years without any injuries without having to play banged up a bunch of times,” clarified Subban, who continues to play it safe no matter how eager the former Norris Trophy winner is to get back on the ice. “You have to be smart when dealing with certain injuries. In my case it is a matter of not putting me at risk.”

Should the media in Montreal heed Subban’s words, one of the players worth showcasing is rookie defenseman Joel Hanley. In the span of a mere couple of weeks, the 24-year-old defenseman has transitioned from a depth defenseman in the American Hockey League to the leading point-per-game scorer in the entire NHL with an average of 1.33 points per game.

“It’s only three games, but I’m trying to improve every time I hit the ice. I just want to help the team as much as I can. Just play a simple and make smart plays, added Hanley, who stayed humble when asked if he would brag about his NHL leading stat. “No. Some of my friends have sent me some pictures of the points-per-game leader-board. I don’t know if I can brag about it, it’s only been three games. I guess it’s kind of cool. It’s kind of funny.”

Coach Therrien however was happy to brag about his young defenseman.

Hanley celebrates with his teammates after Lucas Lessio's game winner against the Ducks on March 22nd.

“He’s looked good since joining the team. He has great hockey sense and is very composed with the puck. He doesn’t just get rid of it, he makes a good first pass and gets the puck on net. He’s looked very comfortable for a player who just started out in the NHL,” praised Therrien of his young blue-liner, who presently sits ahead of superstars Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn and Sidney Crosby in the points-per-game scoring race. “Seeing as we have four young defensemen with little experience, it can be difficult to shelter them from the tougher assignments. But it is also important for us to see how the young defensemen respond in difficult situations.”

Another youngster who deserves his fair share of the spotlight is rookie Michael McCarron.

On Thursday night in Detroit, the Habs bench boss experimented by placing the 21-year-old on the wing to test the player’s versatility to play multiple positions. Though the Grosse Pointe, Michigan native would have liked to light the lamp in front of a large collection of family and friends, he’s left a strong impression on the Habs brass and the players in the dressing room with his physical and imposing style of play.

“I don’t think we were connecting in the first period as a team. It was tough for me to establish a rhythm, perhaps because of all the jitters I had playing in front of all the people that came out to support me. I feel comfortable at center. Maybe even more so than wing,” noted McCarron, who continued to take face-offs on his strong side, working in tandem with his new centerman David Desharnais on Thursday night in Detroit.

As a former first round pick with high expectations himself, Nathan Beaulieu for one has walked in the youngster's (big) shoes. As Beaulieu attests, McCarron’s willingness to pay the price for planting himself in front of the opposing team’s net has not gone unnoticed.

“He’s done a great job. I think he’s been one of our more consistent players over the last five games. He’s a big guy and he’s playing the style that I think the team is looking for; big and physical. He’s got some finish to his game too, so he’s definitely making an impact on the team so far,” added Beaulieu, who himself just recently returned to the blue-line from an injury sustained in a scary collision with the post on February 22, 2016. “It’s been difficult, the situation were in. It’s a tough part of the year to play in because if you’re not in the playoffs you are fighting for a spot and if you are already out you have to play for pride.”

There might be just seven games left on tap for the Habs this season, but as Subban certified, there's still a dressing room full of interesting stories.

Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com

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