Other players, bona fide NHLers, have tried to do it in practice, but mostly, they’ve failed miserably.
We’re talking here about that thing Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban pulls off routinely: Holding off an onrushing player with his one arm, carrying the puck with other, then spinning away to burst up the ice.
It’s a nifty bit of physics, predicated on Subban’s oft-underestimated strength – he’s powerfully built, but not especially huge for an NHL defenceman – and crafty work with his skate edges.
“We’re all strong guys, but you try it, hold that puck out, and you’re falling over wondering, ‘how does he do that?’ He’s figured out how to use that guy who’s trying to hit him to propel him the other way,” said Habs blueliner Josh Gorges, who has been Subban’s frequent defensive partner over parts of three seasons (the pair will start the season as Montreal’s top blueline pairing).
More than the booming clapper, more than the stickhandling, more than power-play prowess, this is what makes Subban dominant, and unique: The ability to manufacture space out of nothing and turn defence into offence.
“I’ve never seen a player have the ability to protect the puck and break the puck out with guys all over him, still able to get his feet moving and get by. It’s unbelievable what he can do when he’s got the puck and there’s a fore-checker right on him. You couldn’t name me another player in the league who does that,” Gorges said.
That’s as good a reason as any why Subban is a hockey poolie’s dream, and should be one of the first couple of defencemen taken off any fantasy draft board.
Sure, Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) scored at a higher clip in 2011-12, and Kris Letang plays for an offensive powerhouse in Pittsburgh, but there are clues Subban’s James Norris Memorial Trophy campaign in 2013 was a sign of things to come rather than a blip.
The Toronto native isn’t much given to deconstructing his game – to this point in training camp he has mostly limited himself to platitudes such as, “I’m just trying to get better every day” – but his teammates can offer an appreciation of how he has evolved into a dangerous offensive player.
“The biggest difference is being able to find a lane [to shoot]. To be able to freeze the forward, then step around him and get a shot off, he’s really good at that,” goaltender Carey Price said.
So why should you pick Subban to anchor your fantasy blueline?
“He’s got a good shot, he logs a lot of power-play time, he plays with [Andrei Markov]. Those three things right there earn you a lot of points during the season,” he said with a laugh.
Subban’s improvement has also been noticed outside the Habs room.
A pro scout from a rival team said this week Subban’s game is “maturing” and “he’s not trying to do as many goofy things with the puck as maybe he used to. He’s playing more contained, and he’s more accurate with that shot.”
Having a power-play quarterback like Markov on hand to feed him pinpoint passes for one-timer opportunities helps on that front.
The majority of Subban’s points last season came on the power play; he scored 26 of his 38 points (and seven of his 11 goals) on the man-advantage.
This year, he’ll have the benefit of being on the first power-play wave from day 1 – a brief contract dispute caused him to miss six games last year, and then it took 10 or so games before head coach Michel Therrien saw fit to regularly send him out with the top unit.
Last season, Subban was on pace to top 20 goals (if it had been a regular 82-game campaign) – the gold standard for offensive defencemen – and generated a ridiculous 6.51 points per 60 minutes played at five-on-four (head and shoulders the best in the league).
This year, he’ll get as much power-play time, and should be more effective five-on-five if he plays more minutes with Montreal’s top offensive forwards than he did last season, especially in the early going.
As Subban continues his development, it’s clear he will be expected to step up his even-strength production even as he takes on more defensive responsibilities – and this is a player who generally responds well to challenges from his coaches.
It’s oft unnoticed that Subban managed a decent, but hardly extraordinary, six points in 10 games to start his 2013 Norris Trophy-winning campaign – a period in which he was working himself into game shape and trying to win over a new coach.
His production also dipped when the team as a whole went into a late-season swoon (two points in his last six regular-season games).
In the middle 26 games of the season, he scored 30 points.
That pace is surely unsustainable for a whole season, but on a team that scored more goals from its back end than any other in the NHL last season – and did likewise through the preseason – it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll be near the team lead in points.
Subban scored 38 points in his first full NHL season, 36 in his second, and was on pace to score 74 last season despite averaging just 23 minutes a game.
Expect that number to increase significantly this year.
If he’s still on the board when you’re drafting, just pick him.