WILMINGTON, Mass. – As one of the top prospects for the Boston Bruins, Malcolm Subban watched the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Final with a rooting interest.
As a goaltender, Subban intensely watched the play of Bruins star Tuukka Rask throughout the run that came up two wins short with a six-game defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks in the last series of the season.
"I felt bad for him," Subban said of Rask after the first day on ice at the Bruins' seventh annual development camp Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena. "He played so well and he deserved a bit more, maybe the Conn Smythe or something. A Stanley Cup ring, obviously. But it's tough. Stuff happens like that, and, you know, a couple bad breaks and just like that it's over. So, you know, I don't think there's much else he could've done. It was just some bad luck if you watch the last few minutes. I thought he played really well; I thought the whole team played well."
The Bruins plan to have Malcolm Subban take the next step in his development by playing for Providence of the AHL in 2013-14. (Photo: Getty Images)
Although the two goals 17 seconds apart that helped the Blackhawks beat Rask and the Bruins for the Cup could feel like a kick in the gut to any goaltender, even one watching from afar, sympathy for Rask can be somewhat softened by the long-term deal the goalie signed to stay with the Bruins for the better part of the next decade.
Rask, who became a restricted free agent July 5, on Wednesday re-signed with the Bruins for eight years at $7 million per season.
Subban, the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens Norris Trophy-winning defenseman P.K. Subban, completed his third full season with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney confirmed that, barring unforeseen circumstances, they plan to have the 19-year-old take the next step in his development by playing for Providence of the American Hockey League in 2013-14.
The next step after that in the progression of Subban would be the NHL. But with Rask's deal done, one of the League's elite goaltenders won't be relinquishing his job any time soon. Subban, though, is not letting his glance get too far into the future.
"I'm not playing there yet. I'm not even in the AHL yet," he said. "So I've still got a lot of work to do to get there before that even enters my mind. You know, right now, it's just getting ready just to even be able to contend at that level. And I don't feel like I'm there yet. I feel I have a big summer coming up ahead, coming from the OHL to the AHL or NHL is a huge step. So that's my focus right now."
Sweeney said he doesn't want Subban -- or any of his team's prospects -- to get discouraged by commitments the Bruins make to other players.
"I think we'll have that conversation. ... It's stuff that I think all players and goaltenders have to understand. There's no roadblocks in anybody's way," Sweeney said. "You know, you look at Tuukka, he's been patient at times to be sort of the understudy and understand it. And he's had some ebbs and flows as well, some success and then all of a sudden some step-backs. ... That's all healthy in a person's development.
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"I mean a lot of guys think about goaltenders hitting their stride and they play a lot longer in their careers. Some goaltenders have won Stanley Cups and taken steps back because it came early for them and they had some success. I don't think [Malcolm is] in a rush, nor should he be. And he should just sort of embrace what's in front of him at that moment. And I think he does a good job of that. He's a really competitive guy. So he's going to want the net. And you love that in a goaltender."
The Bruins loved Subban enough to take him with their first-round pick, No. 24, in the 2012 NHL Draft. Subban had finished the season with a .923 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average. Subban rewarded the faith of the Bruins by improving on those numbers and taking the Bulls on a lengthy postseason run in 2012-13.
Last season, Subban led the OHL with a 2.14 GAA and .934 save percentage in 46 games. The Bulls reached the Eastern Conference finals with Subban posting a 2.00 GAA and .933 save percentage in 17 playoff games. The impressive numbers and Subban's health were reward for the goaltender's dedication to making sure he maximized his natural athletic abilities.
"I think maturity, growing as a goaltender," Subban said about how he's improved since he was drafted by the Bruins. "Obviously I haven't been playing for that long and I learn something every year. I try to take everything in, everything that I can get. And, basically, right now, as I'm getting older, I'm doing a lot of stretching and keeping my joints and muscles flexible and strong. So that's my focus right now. I have a routine, not so much before [games] ... I usually do just stuff to get me warmed up. But after [games] I really have a good routine just to cool down and I can get more flexible and stronger in my joints and my groins. So that's my focus right now. I think the biggest thing for me is that I continue to mature as a goaltender."
Groin and ankle injuries earlier in Subban's career taught him the importance of the stretching routine for success and longevity.
"I felt like, as I'm getting older, hearing a lot of stuff, you've got to take care of your body. You hear a lot of other guys are doing it and it enters your mind and say, ‘Hey, maybe I should do that,'" Subban said. "So, obviously, I think that, for sure, you know there are a few goalies in the NHL, like [Columbus Blue Jackets' Sergei] Bobrovsky, [Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan] Quick, they're really flexible guys. And I want to be like that."
Subban's desire to be considered in the same breath as those award-winning goaltenders might pay off down the road. Maybe he'll benefit by not having to rush there.