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Montreal prospect Subban makes his mark in AHL

by A.J. Atchue
It seems more inevitable by the day that defenseman P.K. Subban is Montreal-bound and will enjoy a lengthy career in the NHL. If the 2009-10 season does indeed turn out to be his only full year in the American Hockey League, he is certainly leaving his mark.

One of the Canadiens' top young prospects, Subban possesses a dynamic set of skills along with a firm confidence – but well short of cockiness – in his ability to put them to use. That combination has paved the way for a monster rookie campaign as a member of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs, Montreal's top affiliate.

"I have a lot of skills that I like to use out there, and it's just a matter of knowing when to use them and how to use them," Subban said. "I've done that at every level, and I'm just happy to see that it's continuing to work here."

Oh, it's worked, for sure.

A second-round pick (No. 43) by Montreal in the 2007 Entry Draft, Pernell Karl Subban leads AHL rookie defensemen with 18 goals and 53 points in 74 games for Hamilton. His 53 points are third among all AHL defensemen and are also good for a share of third place among all rookies, forwards included.

Subban has excelled at the offensive end of the ice and on the power play – his 11 man-advantage goals are tied for the team lead – and defensively in even-strength situations. His current plus-46 rating would be the highest in the AHL in 17 years.

The native of Rexdale, Ont., participated in the 2010 AHL All-Star Classic, appeared in his first two NHL games with Montreal, and last week was selected to the AHL's All-Rookie Team and First All-Star Team.

"I try to be as well-rounded as possible, but the feedback I've received all through hockey is to use my skating to my advantage," Subban said. "It's one of those things where it helps me move the puck up the ice, helps me get out of situations that I maybe don't want to be in, and it's something that I have to continue to use to be successful."

Subban is no stranger to being known as a quick offensive-minded defenseman. He piled up 76 points in 56 junior games with Belleville of the OHL in 2008-09, and had 3 goals and 6 assists while helping Canada capture gold at the 2009 World Junior Championships.

This year, the 20-year-old has developed into one of the key cogs for a Hamilton squad that enters the final week of the regular season with the AHL's second-best record at 51-16-3-7, good for a franchise-record 112 points.

"He's an extremely enthusiastic individual and player whose got tremendous athletic abilities," first-year Bulldogs coach Guy Boucher said. "It translates on the ice into speed, the ability to protect the puck extremely well, and to be able to get away from a lot of the traffic is probably his biggest asset. He's one of the most mobile defensemen I've ever had."

When asked who they try and model their style of game after, many players will rattle off a list of guys they watched growing up or who may still be active. Subban's choice, though a little more dated, is revealing. He went right to the top of his craft.

"I just think that Bobby Orr is the best defenseman to play the game," said Subban, who wasn't even a twinkle in his parents' eyes when No. 4 hung up his skates in 1979. "He was solid at both ends of the rink, and people respected him both on and off the ice. That's something that I think has to be a big quality in some of the great players, so I try and make it a part of me as a person and as a player."

Like Orr, Subban frequently tries to use his speed and strength to jump into the play offensively, use the entire ice, and not limit himself to being strictly a defensive defenseman.

His numbers speak for themselves -- but one of the key elements of Subban's development this season has been figuring out when to jump into the play and when it's better to sit back.

"We've tried to tame it down a little bit – at the beginning of the year, he was jumping in at all kinds of moments where it wasn't needed," Boucher said. "He can go end to end and create offensive chances, but what he's done is improve the ratio of when to do it and when not to do it."

It all comes back to the maturation process -- and, again, being confident without being cocky.

"As long as I'm helping my team and doing the right things out there, that's all that matters," Subban said. "The only critics I really listen to anyway are my coaches. For them, it's positive criticism, and there's times when I'm learning. I'm young, I'm still making mistakes, but I'm always learning."

Like most young players, Subban plans to work hard this summer and come to training camp in September ready to battle for an NHL spot. For a guy who grew up following the Canadiens, earning a full-time gig with the big club would be a dream come true.

"I've been pretty lucky to be able to come into an organization like the Montreal Canadiens, and my first year to be on a winning team and be a big part of that," Subban said. "It's amazing, and it's a lot of fun. It's been a learning process for me -- I've learned so much this year, and I'm going to continue to learn."

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