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Subban says he needs to improve as leader with Devils

Defenseman 'failed in terms of making my teammates better' last season

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

P.K. Subban said he needs to be a better leader for the New Jersey Devils after falling short in that role last season. 

"I think that in some ways maybe I failed in terms of making my teammates better at times," the defenseman said Thursday before the start of training camp. "I've been very fortunate in my career to have great individual years, whether it's awards or being up for trophies.

"I played on some really good teams that have won awards and have been to a Stanley Cup Final (with the Nashville Predators in 2017). I also understand that not every year is going to be the same and not every situation is going to be the same, but your responsibility is to be a good teammate, push your teammates, make them better."

Subban, who won the Norris Trophy voted as the NHL's best defenseman in 2013, had career worsts in assists (11), points (18) and power-play points (six) in 68 games last season, his first with the Devils after a trade with the Predators on June 22, 2019. 

The 31-year-old has two years remaining on an eight-year, $72 million contract (average annual value of $9 million) he signed with the Montreal Canadiens on Aug. 2, 2014. Subban was traded by Montreal to Nashville for defenseman Shea Weber on June 29, 2016.

"The one area I know I never fail is being a good teammate, being one of the hardest-working guys, setting an example from my approach to the game and my professionalism," Subban said. "I come to the rink every day, regardless of what team I'm on or what situation I'm in and put my best foot forward. ... That's my job."

The Devils were one seven teams that did not make the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season, finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference with a .493 points percentage (28-29-12). They began on-ice training Friday and are scheduled to open the season against the Boston Bruins at home on Jan. 14.

"I'd like to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs again and, you know, bring this team together and to a place where we can compete for a Stanley Cup again," Subban said. "I also understand that it's a young team, so that's a process. I still feel I can get better, so I want to continue to work with our coaching staff and my teammates. A big thing, too, is just jelling as a team, getting used to playing with new teammates."

To qualify for the postseason for the second time in nine seasons, New Jersey will rely on its youth movement, which is centered around 19-year-old forward Jack Hughes (19), the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and forward Nico Hischier, who was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and will turn 22 on Jan. 4. Forwards Michael McLeod, 22, Jesper Boqvist, 22, Nolan Foote, 20, Janne Kuokkanen, 22, and Nathan Bastian, 23, and defenseman Ty Smith, 20, are also looking to earn full-time roles this season.

Devils coach Lindy Ruff, who was hired July 9, said he expects Subban to play a vital role in the team's improvement.

"I still look at P.K. as a tremendous player," Ruff said. "I've had great conversations with him about how much effort he's put into his conditioning. We're going to see how things turn out in the first half of camp, but I think P.K. wants to make a difference. He wants to get his game back to where he thinks he can be a premier defenseman in the League."

Devils forward Kyle Palmieri said Subban's enthusiasm for the game is infectious.

"Everyone knows P.K.'s such a unique character. You can see his ability to bring the energy and the passion he has for the game and how much he loves his teammates," Palmieri said. "That's something that never wavered with him, whether or not people on social media were talking about how it was a down year for him. He came in, worked hard and did everything he could to be a positive influence on our team.

"I think this time off (due to the coronavirus) was probably great for him to take a look and try and find what he needs to do to be the impact player we're all used to seeing him be."

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