MONTREAL – In a season that started with critics questioning his convictions and ended with them singing his praises, P.K. Subban took one step closer towards realizing his full potential in 2011-12.
This past season may have only been Subban’s second in the NHL, but it was far from the first time he was asked to shoulder a heavy load for the Habs. With a blue line composed largely of players with even less experience than him, coupled with the prolonged absence of defensive pillar Andrei Markov, the 22-year-old rearguard was again asked to step up his game and fill the role of shutdown defenseman for the club.
But following a slow start to his campaign, Subban’s critics didn’t take long to begin wondering out loud if it was a mistake to have entrusted the free-wheeling sophomore with so much responsibility and such a large role on the ice.
“Ever since I first started playing here, I had to get comfortable with the criticisms and get used to being thrown in the mix and given a lot of responsibilities. To be honest, I love it,” revealed Subban, who finished his season as the Canadiens’ highest scoring defenseman with seven goals and 36 points. “Last year, no one was really questioning what I was doing. All I had to do was go out there and play, and if I ever made a mistake people would just say it was because I was rookie.
“The critics have never bothered me. I come to the rink everyday, confident in my game,” he added. “I just try to believe in what I can do and play with confidence, and that’s what I expect from myself.”
Battling a series of rough patches through the first leg of the season, Subban admits he may have tried to do too much out of the gate in an effort to live up to the enormous expectations placed on him by fans and media.
But as the season wore on, it quickly became apparent that the Toronto native was keen on making the adjustments necessary to capitalize on his strengths, simplify his game, and up his efficiency in whatever situation his coaches needed him to play.
“In the beginning it felt like I started the season off in a bit of a sophomore slump and was headed towards having a bad year. But I think that towards the end, I was able to get back to playing with the same effectiveness that I had the season before,” pointed out Subban, who led all Canadiens in ice time, averaging 24:18 per game.
“When your team’s having a tough time, you do your best not to linger on your mistakes,” he added. “You try to instead set your focus on making sure you’re improving and that everyone else is doing the same thing.”
In a season where experience on the blue line was hard to come by, Subban – much like his D partner Josh Gorges – was more than happy to see some veteran poise injected back into the lineup when Markov rejoined the team in March.
A lot was speculated about the effect a defensive-pairing combining Markov’s wisdom and Subban’s speed and exuberance could have on the Canadiens’ blue line. While they may have only gotten the chance to share the ice on a few occasions down the stretch, the dynamic defenseman is well aware of what some extra proximity to the Russian All-Star could mean for his development.
“Andrei is an excellent mentor and someone I can clearly learn a lot from. Not just me, but all the other guys on this team, too,” shared Subban, who’s played only 23 games with Markov since making his NHL debut with the Habs in 2009-10. “Personally, I would have loved to have been able to see him play more this year, and as a team, it would have obviously been huge for us to have him around.”
Just as Markov had done on multiple occasions in his career, Subban was slated to make the trip to Europe to represent his country at the World Championship. Unfortunately, an injury sustained in one of the tournament’s exhibition games forced the young defenseman to drop out the competition. While the situation is without a doubt frustrating, Subban knows that at the end of the day, it’s only a minor bump in the road.
“I fixed a lot of things about my game and made a lot of adjustments over the course of the last year,” explained Subban, who managed to swing his differential from a minus-8 to a plus-9 by the end of 2011-12. “All I want to do is keep learning and keep getting better.”