They say in life that the third time is a charm. For Malcolm Subban, he hopes that is the case.
When he was drafted 24th overall in 2012, many had thought he was their twine-tender of the future. Combined with Tuukka Rask, they would combine to form one of the best goaltending tandems in the entire NHL.
However, professional life has gotten off to a disappointing start for Subban. The 21-year-old has split time the past two seasons with journeyman AHL goalie Jeremy Smith down Interstate 95 in Providence. At times, Subban was outplayed by Smith and put up pedestrian numbers last season (16-13-4, 2.44 GAA, .921 save percentage).
This will be Subban’s third training camp appearance in Boston. A player that was compared to his older brother PK in Montreal in terms of skill set and raw talent is running out of time to find the ability worthy of consistently competing at the League level.
Is the 2015-16 campaign the one that could make or break Malcolm’s future in Boston?
Singing The Blues
When Subban was recalled from Providence during Boston’s five-game Western Conference road trip in mid-February, it was expected he would start at least one game to give Rask a night off.
The lowly Edmonton Oilers presented the perfect opportunity for the former Belleville Bull to enter the NHL spotlight, but things didn’t break that way. Instead, Claude Julien decided to start him in St. Louis against the Blues on February 20.
The good news for Subban is that his defense only allowed six shots through the first 31 minutes. The bad news was that he only saved three of them. Safe to say, it wasn’t the best idea for coach Julien to start a raw, young talent like Subban against an offensive powerhouse in St. Louis. He was pulled in favor of Rask midway through the game, en route to a 5-1 defeat.
The athletic netminder, according to Hockey’s Future, has “explosive lateral mobility” but “drawn some criticism for his technique which is less refined than other goalie prospects.”
Being great post-to-post and being a big body in front of goal is nice but, for those who saw the goals Subban gave up, his sieve-like glove hand needs some work. He gave up a very soft goal to Petteri Lindbohm (his first in the NHL) and followed that up with another one to Alex Pietrangelo four minutes later.
All three goals the Blues scored were to Subban’s glove side, which showed that there’s still work to be done in order for him to progress into something more than just a prospect.
Four’s A Crowd
The battle to back up the crease behind Rask this season is a rather congested one. Four goalies are vying for one spot.
Jeremy Smith, Zane McIntyre and Jonas Gustavsson join Subban in their quest to earn a roster spot on opening night. The good news about having multiple netminders is that it will create a very healthy competition between them. In addition, all of them should see time during the Bruins seven-game preseason schedule, which opens up on the 20th in Providence against New Jersey.
Subban has a fair amount of building pressure on him. It will be his third professional season and it seems he hasn’t exactly progressed the way Boston thought he would. Joe Haggerty of Comcast Sportsnet New England explains why.
“The .921 save percentage from last season is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but there seemed to be little growth in Subban’s game last season. It’s about time for him to start dominating the AHL level, and prove his considerable athletic skills can translate into being a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.”
As stated earlier, technical ability is one of the biggest flaws in Subban’s game. Smith and Gustavsson are a bit more refined even though the former has never tasted NHL action and the latter has had a pedestrian NHL career stat-wise.
McIntyre possesses a wealth of potential and has come a long way since being a sixth-round pick in 2010. It may be a bad look for Subban (a first-rounder) if he gets outplayed by a kid fresh off a season in which he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
If Subban is not the guy to make the roster, the possibility of trading him should be more enticing. He is still one of Boston’s top prospects and would fetch a very desirable return if the Bruins brass play their cards right. It was a topic that was thrown around at last season’s trade deadline and could happen again.
Regardless for Subban, this year is the one that can make or break his time in Boston. The backup job is there for the taking. Can he stand out from the crowd and seize the moment?
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW