fans had incredibly high expectations for prospect P.K. Subban -- and that was before he started playing for the team this postseason.
His NHL career is all of six games old, but Subban continues to earn more playing time, and he looks like the potentially elite defensemen so many pundits and fans have projected him to be.
"P.K. has stepped up. He's playing extremely well for a young guy," Brian Gionta
Added Michael Cammalleri
: "I don't know if surprised is the right word, but impressed, for sure. He's helping our team a lot."
Subban was summoned for Game 6 of Montreal's first-round series against the Washington Capitals
because Jaroslav Spacek
was out with an illness. He logged just 10:02 of ice time in his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut, and collected an assist with a crafty backhand pass to Cammalleri for a one-timer.
"In these moments you can do two things -- you can freeze up or you can grasp the moment and play for your teammates. It wouldn't be fair to the rest of the guys if I went out there and put my tail between my legs and not compete. That's all they ask so I am trying my best out there."
-- P.K. Subban
His playing time increased slightly for Game 7 against Washington, to 10:50, but the Canadiens lost Andrei Markov
early in Game 1 of this series against the Pittsburgh Penguins
and Subban's ice has spiked.
The Toronto native scored his first playoff goal in Game 1 in just less than 20 minutes of action. He logged 23:17 in Game 2 and assisted on the game-winning tally by Cammalleri.
"I'm not going to focus on myself. This is the playoffs and it is about the team so that is where my focus is," Subban said after Game 2. "If they ask me to fill the water bottles, I'll fill the water bottles. If they ask me to play two minutes, I'll play my two minutes. I'm not going to focus on how much ice time I am getting."
Subban was a second-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, and his stock has been rising steadily ever since. He made Canada's World Junior Championship team in 2008, but was just a role player on the gold-medal winning club.
The next year he came back and was one of Canada's best players, totaling 3 goals, 9 points and a plus-12 rating while helping his country to another WJC title and earning an all-tournament selection in the process. That tournament helped build his resume as a player who performs in pressure situations, and he hasn't disappointed for the Canadiens despite being only 20.
"It is just a game. You can't focus on anything else but playing," Subban said. "In these moments you can do two things -- you can freeze up or you can grasp the moment and play for your teammates. It wouldn't be fair to the rest of the guys if I went out there and put my tail between my legs and not compete. That's all they ask so I am trying my best out there."
Subban was a big hit for the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs this season -- his first as a professional. He produced 18 goals and 53 points for the Bulldogs, and was invited to the AHL All-Star Game.
He had 3 goals and 9 points in Hamilton's first-round AHL playoff series, but then Montreal needed him to help bolster their wounded defense corps. Despite just two regular-season games of experience, Subban has become a key contributor for the Canadiens.
He has a goal and 3 points in four games. With Markov out indefinitely and Spacek still missing, Subban and partner Roman Hamrlik
are going to be counted on for heavy minutes in this series.
"The older guys here, the experienced guys, they are doing a great job helping me out in the room, during intermissions, on the bench," Subban said. "I'm just trying to do my job."
Subban's potential is tremendous, and he could be a Calder Trophy candidate next season if he becomes a regular on the Montreal blue line. Given his play to this point, that seems like an easy choice for the Canadiens.
Not only did coach Jacques Martin have enough trust in Subban to give him a chance to kill penalties in Game 2, he responded by helping the Canadiens keep Pittsburgh off the scoreboard in three extra-man opportunities.
Subban may be a respectful youngster, but that doesn't mean he's going to take any guff from anyone on the other team. During a faceoff in Game 2, Subban responded to a stick jab from Evgeni Malkin
with one of his own. It escalated to the point that an official had to step between them.
"I've got tons of respect for Malkin and (Sidney) Crosby and guys like that," Subban said. "They're great players in this League, but when you're out there playing, it is playoff hockey so sometimes it gets like that.
"I just try to be confident. I haven't played in the NHL all year, so I am just trying to do everything with confidence and hope that it helps the team. Right now it is not about me being cocky out there or walking with a swagger, it is about the team and I'm just happy we're going back (to Montreal) tied 1-1."