PENTICTON, B.C. – Jordan Subban may still have a growth spurt or two left in him, but for now he remains characterized as an undersized defenceman.
The Vancouver Canucks took Subban – listed at 5’9” and 175 pounds – in the fourth round, 115th overall, of this year’s NHL Draft. He’s part of Vancouver’s prospects team taking part in the Young Stars Tournament against teams from Calgary, Edmonton, San Jose and Winnipeg at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
The Canucks’ prospects open their tournament schedule on Thursday against the Sharks’ prospects.
Of the 10 defencemen on the Canucks’ Young Stars roster, the 18-year-old Subban is the shortest by three full inches and one of the lightest.
But his game isn’t to play the part of a bruising blue liner; it’s to move the puck up the ice, use his speed and contribute offensively through means of hockey smarts.
“I’ve always said that if I don’t play in the NHL, it won’t be because I’m too small,” said Subban on Wednesday, after practice at the SOEC.
“I think that I definitely use my vision and smarts. I’m not the biggest guy, so I’m not going to be able to muscle a lot of the guys off the puck, so just try to think the game maybe a little bit more and make smarter plays.”
Asked which NHL defenceman Subban tries to model his game after, he quickly responded with Brian Rafalski, who played 833 regular season games and had 515 points as a member of the New Jersey Devils and later the Detroit Red Wings, before retiring in May of 2011.
Rafalski was never known for his size. He stands at 5’10” according to NHL.com, but was a consistent point producer and never finished with a minus rating in any of his 11 seasons.
“I try to play like him,” said Subban.
“He made up for that lack of size with hard work and a good stick and good feet.”
Subban is still trying to land a contract with the Canucks, which is to say he’s looking to make an impact beginning in Penticton.
“It looks like he wants to be an offensive player and you need players like that on the back side,” said Travis Green, head coach of the Canucks’ top minor-league affiliate in Utica and bench boss for Vancouver’s prospects this week.
“You need to push the pace, you need to get pucks up the ice.”
Of the obstacles facing Subban in his goal of making the NHL, it would appear size – or perceived lack of – is the biggest.
Even in an NHL in which the powers that be have tried to eliminate obstruction, to give skilled players more of an ability to use their talents and create plays.
Again, for Subban, it all comes back to Hockey Intelligence Quotient, and his attributes that lend to a more offensive defenceman.
“You can be the biggest, fastest, strongest guy on the ice, but if you can’t think the game…that will come out eventually,” said Green.
“And I think there’s room now for guys that aren’t the biggest guys, with the way the game is played and the pace of the game and how you want to create offence from the back side.”
Subban fully admitted there were some nerves on the eve of the prospects tournament.
When it comes to a calming influence, Subban has an abundance of resources in his family lineage.
He’s the younger brother of Montreal Canadians charismatic rearguard P.K. Subban, and Team Canada world junior goaltender Malcolm Subban.
Jordan Subban trained and skated with his brothers this summer and remains in contact with them. Of course, he’s eager to take in the advice of his siblings.
“He (P.K.) just told me to work hard, act like a pro, play like a pro and practice like a pro. You’re going to make mistakes and be nervous, but just never make the same mistake twice,” said Subban of his older brother’s words of wisdom.
“I’m always picking his mind, asking him questions.”