WILMINGTON -- When it comes to the Subbans, don’t believe everything you hear.
When the Bruins drafted goaltender Malcolm Subban with the 24th overall pick in last Friday’s NHL draft, the coverage team noted that the goaltender was “much shyer” than P.K., the Canadiens defenseman and Malcolm’s older brother. From the looks of Subban two days into Boston’s development, he appears to have much of the same charm and a very similar personality to his boisterous sibling.
After Thursday's zoo of cameras and microphones, Subban's scrum Friday was limited to a few beat reporters, one of whom sarcastically asked if the netminder was ready to answer all the same questions for a second time before inquiring about Subban’s decision to play goalie.
"Next question," Subban responded with a laugh. "No, I'm kidding."
Right away, Subban’s mannerisms and rapport with the media seemed similar to that of P.K. As much as Bruins fans don’t want to hear it, P.K. is one of the most polite and entertaining young players throughout the league with the media. He’s respectful, insightful and above all else a great quote. After just a few minutes with Malcolm, the 18-year-old seemed every bit as polished and charismatic, so what’s this junk about him being nothing like P.K.? Of course, the Bruins fans who are irked by the Montreal defenseman will eat up their prospect's outgoing personality -- what a difference a sweater makes.
“I think [I’m] more [comfortable] in a smaller crowd and so on,” he explained. “I think with my friends and stuff I might be. On the ice, I'm more of a go-about-my-business kind of guy.”
As a room full of media members who have covered his brother would know, the on-the-ice part is where they differ. P.K.’s on-ice antics range anywhere from chirping at opponents to flopping for penalties and everything in between. (“I don’t like him,” David Krejci said of P.K. after one such embellishing incident in the 2011 postseason. “I’m not going to say what I think about him, but I don’t like him.") Malcolm will happily follow P.K.’s lead off the ice, but he’s his own person on it.
“It's hard for a goalie to be a trash-talker,” he said. “If a defenseman gets beat it's not that big a deal, but if you get scored on everyone sees it. It's hard to trash-talk as a goalie.”
If it weren’t for a bold decision as a youngster, perhaps Malcolm would still be a defenseman like his brother. He played the position until he was 12 years old, at which point he, with some inspiration from Don Cherry’s Rock’em Sock'em Hockey videos, decided to take to the pipes.
“I always wanted to be a goalie from when I was a kid,” Subban said. “I was a defenseman, and my dad [Karl] just didn't really want me to play [goalie] -- he was my coach. But I always wanted to play because I grew up just watching the goalies.
“The biggest thing was probably the Don Cherry tapes. Just watching them and watching all the goalie parts and scenes, and seeing those goalies. I always wanted to play, and finally at 12, he stepped down from coaching me. I was supposed to go to a different team and I just said, 'No, I want to be a goalie.' He finally let me play that year and said that I could try it out, and here I am now.”
Malcolm wasn’t just any defenseman. Dougie Hamilton, the CHL’s top defenseman and a childhood opponent of Malcolm’s, remembers Subban as being a damn good blueliner.
Hamilton said Thursday that he remembered games against Subban’s teams coming down to the two defensemen, as Subban’s athleticism and speed made him so good that Hamilton believed he still would have been a high draft pick if he hadn’t change positions.
Now entrenched in life as a goalie, Subban looks back at his days as a defenseman and remembers being little more than an offensive threat. (“Offensive. Oh, offensive. Like Ryan Murphy offensive,” he said with a laugh. “I was totally offensive.”) Still, he joked that he still could give Hamilton a run for his money.
“I'd need probably a couple of weeks to get back, but I think for sure I could beat him in a race,” Subban said.
As a goaltender, Subban has been able to accomplish a lot in a shorter period of time. Three years into his career as a netminder, Malcolm was a mere 11th-round pick of the Belleville Bull’s (P.K.’s team) in the 2009 OHL draft. He played 13 minutes of one game in the 2009-10 season before getting into 32 games in 2010-11. This past season, he played 39 games for the Bulls, recording a 2.50 goals-against average and .923 save percentage en route to propelling himself into the first round of the NHL draft.
Knowing that he’s still developing and a few years away from knocking on any NHL doors, Malcolm looks up to many current NHL goaltenders, with Henrik Lundqvist chief among them.
Though he admires Lundqvist, he’s seen enough of the Bruins’ goaltending in recent years to know that there’s a lot to like from them as well. On Friday, Subban praised Tuukka Rask’s athleticism and reflexes and gushed about Tim Thomas’ ability to do “anything to stop the puck,” but the quality that stands out to Subban most is something that’s been questioned a lot over the past year: Thomas’ mindset.
“The biggest thing I've got to work on his having great mental ability, and Thomas has that,” Subban explained. “You see him, he lets in a bad goal, the camera goes on him and you see him resting on his net getting ready for the face-off. You can see it doesn't affect him too much, and I try to bring that to my game. Just not let anything get to me mentally.”
Subban also said that he is looking to become a more controlled goaltender. He said he is set to have a more focused session over the weekend with Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa, something he is excited to learn from as he prepares for his third full season in the OHL.
“A lot of people say I make the save three times before it actually gets to me, like I'm moving too much and thinking too much,” Subban said. “Just to simplify my game a bit. I wouldn't say too much calming down, because I'm pretty calm in the net, but not moving too much would probably be the biggest thing.“
With more years of seasoning, perhaps Malcolm will be able to contribute like Thomas has to the Bruins. It’s a great dream, but Subban knows that despite his status as a first-round pick he still needs to work hard to make it to the NHL. Then, he can play against P.K. -- and likely his younger brother, Jordan -- and join the Staals, Schenns and Sedins as the dominant hockey families of today’s NHL.
“Definitely me,” Malcolm said, when asked who wins the shootouts between he and P.K. ”He tries to come in and do his dekes, but his hands aren't good enough for me. His shot's more the one that gets me, but I've been catching up to him.”
All kidding aside, as Subban goes through his first development camp, he can say with sincerity that being P.K.’s little brother has helped him throughout the process. Though P.K. is essentially helping his brother become his rival, Malcolm appreciates all that he’s done for him.
“To be honest it's a lot better than you’d think,” he said of having the Habs defenseman as a brother. "You kind of have that extra step coming in. When you come in, it's always like you're so nervous, but he's told me, 'There's nothing to be nervous about. Just enjoy the experience.' "
Subban’s enjoying it so far, but he’s got a long way to go. He’s ready to work for it, as he sees quite the sibling rivalry at the end of the of the tunnel. Now if only the Maple Leafs or another Original Six rival of the B’s and Canadiens could draft Jordan next year ...