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Habs' Subban still going through maturation process

by Arpon Basu
BROSSARD, Que. – P.K. Subban has the visibility of a 10-year veteran, not the 22-year-old that he is.

Subban has already found himself in so many headlines and the topic of conversation on so many talk shows, it is easy to forget the defenseman is only in his second full season with the Montreal Canadiens.

Like most young players, Subban continues to go through some growing pains – a process that is further in the spotlight because the Canadiens are struggling as a team, as well.

Subban's struggles took center stage Friday night in Pittsburgh when Subban turned a puck over deep in his own end while on a power play, blindly playing the puck around the boards to a spot where he expected a teammate to be.


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There was no teammate in sight and Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek grabbed the puck and sent it in front to Dustin Jeffrey for a shorthanded goal, one that cut the Canadiens lead to 3-2 early in the second period. Montreal lost the game, 5-4, in a shootout.

After the goal, Subban and assistant coach Randy Ladouceur had an animated discussion on the bench, one that was documented by TV cameras and re-played on local television for days.

During Tuesday's practice, Subban was again scolded by Ladouceur when Subban wasn't doing a drill correctly.

Subban had not spoken to reporters since the incident on Friday night, and Tuesday he said he found it pretty amusing just how big of a story it had become.

"Coaches and players won't agree on all things, but at the end of the day, I'm 22 years old, so it doesn't really matter what I think," Subban said. "He's the coach, and I just need to get better. He's going to tear a strip off me again this year, maybe a couple of times. But if we're going to make a big deal out of it every time, that's not beneficial for our team."

Subban's head coach, Randy Cunneyworth, publicly supported Subban after that game in Pittsburgh, and he did the same Tuesday when faced with questions about Subban being scolded by his coaching staff.

"He's not unlike a lot of our other players where we're working on his attention to detail," Cunneyworth said. "This goes on with a lot of players. It's part of the process to push these guys. I think there's a bit of a limelight there that he's always involved with, but there are other guys we're on top of the way we are with P.K."

Subban was drafted in the second round in 2007, and three years later he was playing top-pair minutes in Montreal as a rookie. The main reason for that is that the Canadiens have needed Subban to fill a void left by two injury-filled years for Andrei Markov, the team's No. 1 defenseman.

As a result, Subban has had to fast-track his development with a lot of on-the-job training.

"The fact you have that added responsibility and experience and you're thrust into so many more situations, it's a positive," Cunneyworth said. "That's a personal feeling I feel strongly about. He's been put under fire a lot, and he's handled a lot of situations.

"He certainly will be gaining experience a little quicker than he might have with Markov in the lineup because there's some responsibility that would go to Markov. It's all part of the maturation of a young player."

There are certain inherent pressures of playing in Montreal, and a demand for immediate results is one of them.

The front page of one of the city's daily newspapers had "Trade P.K.?" splashed on its front page Tuesday morning, the article suggesting that if the Canadiens wanted to acquire a star player, Subban could be a valuable trade chip.

P.K. Subban
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 19
SOG: 127 | +/-: 0
But again, Subban's prominennce since the first day he pulled on a Canadiens uniform belies both his age and experience.

"In a short period of time, I've played a lot of hockey here in two years," Subban said. "It's been a lot of ups and downs, but you can never stop learning. I'm still going through that. I think some people expect a lot of great things from not only myself, but other guys on the team, but they need to understand that we are learning still. Sometimes you need to be a little patient."

If there is one player in the Canadiens' dressing room who understands how patience is sometimes in short supply among the the fans in Montreal, it would be goaltender Carey Price.

Price, 24, was the same age Subban is today in the summer of 2010, when a good portion of the city wanted to see him traded away instead of Stanley Cup Playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.

The perspective Price's experience has offered him leads him to believe that, sometimes, young players can be victims of their own success.

"It's hard when you have a great rookie season or first couple of seasons, and the expectations are maybe greater than you might be able to achieve at a young age," Price said. "I think being patient is the key, because the only way you can get through that is experience, and the only way you can get experience is through time. I found that out; it took me a year or two, but I think it's helped me."

Subban built up those expectations with a fantastic finish to his rookie season.

He scored 12 goals and added 15 assists in 43 games played after New Year's Day last year, while also pairing with Hal Gill to form Montreal's primary shutdown duo at even strength and on the penalty kill. Through 47 games this season, Subban is still being asked to play those difficult minutes -- this time alongside Josh Gorges -- but his offensive numbers are down with three  goals and 16 assists.

Those are not horrible numbers for a second-year defenseman, but sometimes in Montreal not horrible is not good enough.

And that's exactly how Subban likes it.

"It's not an easy city to play in, but I love it," he said. "I love the city, I love the fans and I love the way they hold you accountable. As a player, you want to be the best player you can be and you want people to hold you accountable when things are going well and things aren't going so well."
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