If this is indeed his last season of junior hockey, Vancouver Canucks prospect Jordan Subban is going out with a bang.
The fourth-round pick in 2013 set the single season record for goals by a Belleville Bulls defenceman, and currently leads the entire Canadian Hockey League in that same category.
No blue-liner had ever scored 20 goals wearing a Belleville jersey, not even Jordan’s brother P.K., who had a career high of 15. Subban not only hit the 20-goal plateau, he added one more just 25 seconds later for good measure.
“I wasn’t really expecting anything of it,” said Subban, who leads the Bulls in scoring with 43 points (22-21-43) in 54 games. “As I got closer, people started telling me how close I was getting to it. Obviously I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. As I was inching closer to the record, they were looking for me when they probably should have been shooting.”
Subban’s game has taken a big step this season. We always knew he could score goals and put up points, but this season he has been given an opportunity to expand on his offensive talents.
“The big difference for me this season is I am playing against the other team’s top lines night in and night out,” he said. “It was a bit of a transition for me, but I think I have done a pretty good job balancing my offence and my defensive game by not risking as much as I used to. I think I have improved a lot this season, just by playing on the penalty kill and getting more opportunities defensively.”
The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder started off the season by playing in one pre-season game with the Canucks. A game in which he found the back of the net. He says that by playing in just that one game made him a better player.
“Whenever you get the opportunity to play with and against the best players in the world, it gives you a lot of confidence going back to junior. For me, just being able to play in that game gave me more experience and helped me learn so much. I still focus on and use a lot of things I learned from camp and in that game.”
Subban says he was able to relay some of his experiences to his teammates in Belleville, which may have helped the Bulls, a team that many didn’t expect to compete this season. They started off 10-4-0 before leveling out after dealing with trades and injuries. They sit at 24-26-3-4, good for sixth in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. Playing in his 19-year-old season, Subban is eligible to come back as an overage player, but is also eligible to turn pro. Star players in their 19-year-old season on teams that don’t look like they will contend often find themselves moving to a contender around Christmas. But that wasn’t an option for Subban. He believes this team can make a run.
“I still think we have a chance to make a run come playoff time,” said Subban. “I have been here my whole career, and my brothers spent their entire junior career here. If I thought we didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs and have a competitive team, then I maybe would have explored something else. I believe in the group here and the coaching staff.”
But no matter how good Subban does, the critics will always be there. Not critiquing his game, or anything he can control, but questioning his height. That doesn’t bother him though.
“It doesn’t really get frustrating because I know what I have to do to be successful in the NHL. That’s all I worry about. I have good feet and a good stick, and I try to use my smarts to not put myself in situations where I am having to battle against bigger guys all game.”
These days, we see more and more defenceman standing under 6-feet tall playing in the NHL. Players like Tobias Entstrom, Torey Krug and Sami Vatanen are just three of the blue-liners enjoying success, despite their lack of height.
“I definitely look up to those guys and try to watch them as much as possible,” said Subban. “Especially guys like Krug and Vatanen. They are both shorter guys but they are hard to play against because they have such good sticks and move their feet very well. They make it tough for the opposition to try and take advantage of their height because they are always moving.”
For now, the focus for Subban will be finishing the season strong and helping the Bulls make a playoff run. Off the ice, although he says he doesn’t worry about it during the season, the focus will be earning a contract from the Canucks, who have until June 1 to sign him, or else he re-enters the NHL Entry Draft.
“From my understanding, I believe it will get done. During the season I don’t like to be involved in that stuff, I let my agent handle it, and from talks with him, it sounds like it’s going to get done.”