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Subban makes name for himself at SuperSkills

by Shawn P. Roarke
RALEIGH -- P.K. Subban continues to master the big stage with relative ease. The only difference now is very few people are still surprised by the precociousness of the 21-year-old Montreal Canadiens defenseman.

Saturday morning, almost a full 12 hours before the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition got under way, former NHLer and current NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, predicted Subban would be the breakout star of the show.

"One guy that is going to surprise is P.K.," Weekes told "He has a great skill set and he is made for these types of moments. Last year, he just took over the AHL All-Star Game. He's a great kid. I've known him for a long time. He started going to my camp when he was 8."

Washington's Alex Ovechkin does not have the same type of allegiance to Subban that Weekes harbors. Yet, he was also singing the defenseman's praises before the contest, predicting Subban would win the BlackBerry NHL Breakaway Challenge.

"He's a great player; it's Alex Ovechkin," Subban said. "I didn't really expect to beat him, but if he gives me some props, I'll take them."

Well, Subban didn't beat Ovechkin, who won a third straight Breakaway Challenge title, but he wowed the crowd in Carolina with his unique combination of personality and skill.

In fact, Subban became a temporary favorite at the RBC Center when he skated to center ice to start his Breakaway Challenge attempts in the jersey of Carolina's Jeff Skinner, who might be just as popular as Hurricane captain Eric Staal these days.

One of the players said, 'Man you need an idea,' and Dan Boyle was like, 'Just throw a jersey on' and I was like, 'That was a pretty good idea and I think the crowd would like that.' So I threw it on and they liked it. That's what it is all about; it's about the fans here."

In Boyle's mind, the stunt would have been more effective had Subban donned the Skinner jersey on his fourth attempt.

"He was asking for suggestions and I figured, smart guy that I am, on the last one he might come back, put the jersey on and you'll have 20,000 people behind you," Boyle said. "But, he put it on right away. He didn't need the jersey, he's got some great hands, but had he won I would have taken full credit. Since he finished second, that's all him."

It seems Subban and Skinner were both too nervous to think through all the permutations.

"He had to repeat it a couple of times because I was a bit surprised," said Skinner, who played against Subban in the Ontario Hockey League two years ago.

But, Subban is not just about the shtick. He is also about the skill, as he showed in the Breakaway Challenge. On two of his attempts, he tossed the puck over the net as he skated around it and then tried to bat the puck in -- baseball-style only to barely miss on each attempt.

On another try, he carried the puck into the attacking zone by bouncing it repeatedly up in the air on the blade of his stick before shooting on net.

Not bad for no practice.

"I haven't had any chance to practice that," Subban said. "I just went out there and I was winging it. It seemed that the crowd liked what I tried to do out there. I just tried to put in an honest effort and try to impress the fans and hopefully they left the building happy."

More than 21 percent of the fans that voted really liked it, voting it the best routine of the six on display Saturday night. Unfortunately, almost 39 percent thought Ovechkin's was better, meaning Subban finished second.

"I just wanted to go out there and not embarrass myself to be honest with you," Subban said. "It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it out there. That's a memory I'll have for the rest of my life. Just being out there, talking to guys, talking to Dan Boyle and Patrik Elias. It's a cool experience. I really, really enjoyed it."

But, don't expect him to don a Carolina jersey anytime soon. It was a one-off experience, he says.

"To be honest, I'm more comfortable in my jersey," Subban said. "There was too much black in it, I prefer the bleu, blanc and rouge."

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