Malcolm Subban is anxious to show he can carry a team for the long haul rather than be hot in spots.
The Belleville Bulls goalie, the middle of three brothers in one of Canada's most famous hockey families, is the best goaltending prospect in Canada thanks to how he's expanded on his dexterity and reflexes. However, Subban recognizes that the nagging injuries he's battled this season — an ankle in the fall and a pulled groin suffered in one of the Bulls' first post-Christmas practices — have raised questions about his durability. That's why the 18-year-old, who didn't become a goalie until he was 12, is not so focused on the fact he leads the Ontario Hockey League in two of three major goaltending categories. Adding to his team's win count and helping the youngish Bulls (26-25-1-0) become a tough out by playoff time would mean a lot for him.
"When your team isn't faring well and you want to get back as quick as possible, that's the biggest thing, you can't rush back from your injury," Subban said Sunday prior to a blowout loss in Ottawa in which he got a mercy pull. "It doesn't mean anything if you're not getting wins, I have a real good goals-against average [2.06], but I can give up two goals and if we lose 2-1, it doesn't matter. You have to get the win. So that's what I focus on, trying to give my team a chance to win. When you're focused on your stats, you're not focusing the game.
"I know [the league-leading London Knights'] Michael Houser's doing a great job this year, he has 38 wins, but he's like sixth in average. Just got to help your team get the wins."
There is an excellent chance Subban could be the first goaltender drafted in June, quite possibly in the first round. The Rexdale, Ont., native has statistically been the best in the OHL with a 2.06 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, albeit it only 23 games due to injury. The Bulls are vastly stronger with him (16-7-0-0, .696 point percentage) than when he's been injured or rested (10-18-1-0, .362).
There was a groundswell of support in November for Subban, whose elder brother P.K. Subban won two world junior gold medals before moving on to the Montreal Canadiens, to be invited to Canada's national junior selection camp. Ultimately, older OHLers Mark Visentin and Scott Wedgewood were given the call to wear the Maple Leaf. Neither became a saviour, although the wisdom of the picks might yet be borne out. Visentin, with a 2.12 and .921 rate stats, could overtake Subban for best average and save percentage by season's end.
"It wasn't my turn yet," said Subban, whose 16-year-old brother Jordan is a rookie defenceman for Belleville. "They picked them for a reason. They're both real great goaltenders, both drafted to the NHL, I'm really high on both of them. I hope I'll have my shot next year. At the same time, there's great goaltenders coming up, I know I have to work hard. I have a late birthday, so that kind of helps me a bit. I just have to keep focusing on my game and do what I did in November and hopefully bring that into next season
1. What NHL goaltenders do you watch closely for pointers?
""I try to watch as many goaltenders as I can. They're all in the NHL for a reason. I try to look the good things they do and work them into my game. The three main goaltenders I look at are [the Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre] Fleury, [Philadelphia Flyers' Sergei] Bobrovsky and [New York Rangers' Henrik] Lundqvist. I watch them and see the mistakesv they do make and try to take the good things that they do and put it into my game."
2. Outside of your family, who has the greatest impact on you as an athlete?
"In terms of idolizing or in terms of helping? (Helping.) "My goalie coaches. Jamie Fawcett gave me a chance to play in my first year on the [Toronto Young] Nats [minor hockey team] and I thank him for that. I don't know where I'd be without him — maybe playing Double-A or something. He and my goalie coaches, Piero Greco and Jon Elkin who I was with at the start and Sebastien [Farrese], my goalie coach in Belleville, they've both helped me a lot in making my game better."
3. Who are the two or three toughest forwards you have faced in the OHL? Someone who is just tough to figure out, like he's never the same way twice?
"To be honest, it's harder playing against friends because they know your weaknesses. In terms of the hardest overall, I'd say [Los Angeles Kings prospect Tyler] Toffoli [of the Ottawa 67's]. He's such a shifty forward, you never know if he's going to pass it or shoot it. He's a guy that he looks for an open spot. He doesn't come down and shoot in the same spot. You can have a book on shooters and say 'they always like to shoot high glove' or 'they always like to shoot high blocker' but he just looks for an open spot and takes it. You can't guess with him."
4. One popular question at NHL scouting combine interviews in recent years has been, "If your city was invaded and you could get all of your family out except for one person, whom would you leave behind?" Between your parents, sisters, P.K., your younger brother who would stay back or do you know the answer the NHL teams are looking for?
"It'd be hard, but I would probably say my younger brother Jordan. He's the most ruthless and relentless out of any of us. He'd be able to survive the best out of any of us so if I had to leave anyone behind, it'd probably be him."
5. What's the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
"It's opinion, some people would say it's awful and some people would say it's not, but I have a lot of Justin Bieber on my iPod."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).