Photo credit: Jeff Bassett
By Scott Rosenhek
Yesterday, we learned the Canucks trimmed their training camp roster by ten names. The most notable of those names was Jordan Subban. Once again, Subban has been sent back to the Utica Comets before training camp has ended.
For Jordan Subban, it must be frustrating. He has been working very hard ever since he began playing professional games in the American Hockey League. Last season, he scored 16 goals and 36 points on a very weak Utica Comets team. He matched his production from his first season as a Comet, increasing his production on the Power Play.
The Canucks have been desperate for a power play quarterback and many fans and local media outlets have hailed Subban as that future piece of the next core. However, I believe it is very important to highlight the largest flaws that people talk about when discussing Subban’s game.
The first issue is an overblown one: his size. Subban comes in at 5-foot-9, which is generous. However, being smaller is not the reason why he struggles. Many players in the NHL don’t have issues despite being smaller such as Ryan Ellis and Jared Spurgeon. Heck, even Troy Stecher is proving that being small is not an issue at this point of his career.
The second and only issue with Subban is his play in the defensive zone. To put it bluntly, he is terrible in his own end. Smaller defensemen use their stick and positioning to prevent scoring chances. I don’t expect Subban to win board battles against someone with 6 inches of height on him, but an NHL defender can’t be beaten as easily as he has shown.
A perfect example of this is the brutal turnover to Mark Jankowski in the Calgary game.
This is not an outlier of a play. I did not watch every Utica Comets game last year, but I was able to see around 20 games. This kind of turnover happened. A lot. Sometimes, the turnovers happened at the offensive blue line during a power play and other team quickly had a 1-0 or 2-0 breakaway. In that same preseason game against Calgary, Subban turned over the puck in the offensive zone and almost gave up a breakaway, but Jake Virtanen single-handedly broke up the rush and started a play to allow Brock Boeser to score.
Subban is an excellent possession player according to 5 on 5 corsi and goals for metrics. I know the rescue from Jake Virtanen happened on the power play, but Subban has been bailed out at even strength while playing in Utica. Therefore, I have to take his underlying metrics with a grain of salt because Subban would be getting credit for shots and goals without having a direct effect on either.
I am not the only one who has noticed this from Subban. Travis Green frequently made Subban a healthy scratch towards the end of the Comets’ season last year. Even though Subban brought a great offensive game to the table, Green felt he was too much of a liability defensively and opted for the more responsible Evan McEneny on the first power play unit.
What did McEneny do with his increased ice time? He put up 14 points in his final 15 games of the season and got to debut with the Canucks during the mumps outbreak. Subban continued to struggle, alternating trips between the second power play unit, the bench and the pressbox.
During this training camp, most of the starting roster was in China. Subban struggled against AHL and junior hockey players. I don’t understand why people are shocked by the team cutting Subban once the regular roster players were making their return. I would like to ask a serious question here: how long would Subban have lasted if the China games did not happen?
For me, Subban would likely have been cut very quickly, just like last year. You might say that Subban just needs a veteran to cover the occasional mistakes, like Troy Stecher has with Alex Edler. I would only agree with that if Subban was facing NHL competition. It makes no sense that Subban would fair better against tougher competition when he can’t shut down players that are supposed to be beneath his skill level.
Jordan Subban needs to get better on the defensive side of the puck to earn the trust from this new coaching staff. Canucks management has also shown that they are not very high on Subban and this training camp has started to prove them right. I think Subban will be able to play in the NHL at some point in the future, but I do not think it will be with this team. The biggest question for Subban is whether or not he will be able to play more than a handful of games.