NHL teams are still trying to figure themselves out in this lockout-shortened season, but so far the Bruins rank among the elite.
From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Malcolm Subban.
Things might have been much different for Subban had he avoided the fractured larynx injury last winter, and instead been able to continue building momentum toward winning an NHL job this season as the understudy to Tuukka Rask. Instead, Subban sustained the freak injury that knocked him out for the final months of last season, and now finds himself stuck organizationally after the B’s signed old friend Anton Khudobin to a two-year deal on July 1 to once again work in tandem with Rask. Now it looks like it will be the AHL again for the foreseeable future for Subban.
What happened last year
Subban has shown flashes throughout his young career after the Bruins made him a first-round pick in 2012, and that continued last season prior to the stray puck that hit him in an unprotected part of his throat during pregame warm-ups. The shame of the injury’s timing was that Subban was perhaps playing the best hockey of his career and it finally appeared like he was headed toward the consistency that’s eluded him thus far. Instead the 22-year-old finished last season with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage and didn’t appear on the surface to make much of a progression from his first couple of pro seasons. The injury cost Subban any chance to potentially move into this season as Tuukka Rask’s backup at and really puts a lot of pressure on him to turn the corner this season in the AHL.
Questions to be answered this season
The question still lingers as to whether Subban is an actually NHL goaltender. He still has the potential to be a No. 1 guy as he gains experience and confidence between the pipes. He’s still just 22 with three years of AHL experience and goaltender is a position where it can take longer for the development arc to be completed. But Subban needs to start showing a little bit more dominance in the AHL if he wants to start pushing for looks in the NHL, and clearly needs to be more consistent rather than shining every once in a while with brilliant performances. The talent is clearly there for Subban as a gifted athlete playing goaltender, but it still looks like he’s a late-comer to the goaltending position as he was in his teenage years. Perhaps this is the season where it all comes together for him.
In their own words
“I’ve been hit in the neck before. I have all the gear on now, the protection and stuff. I’ve gotten used to it. Honestly I feel like a tank. I’m not even worried at all about getting hit again. [My approach] is the same as it’s been since I was drafted. I just focus on myself and my game, and that’s all I can really control. My goal is to make the team the same as it is every year, so that’s what I’m trying to do. I just have to play well and give my chance a team to win every night.” –Malcolm Subban talking about his injury and his approach at development camp in July.
We are entering make-or-break territory with Subban and the Bruins as he enters his fourth pro season with the organization with very little discernible progress made over that time period. The injury makes it even more difficult to gauge if he has shown significant signs of development in his time in the AHL and if he’ll be a better goalie than the one that imploded in St. Louis during his NHL debut a couple of years ago. Subban has made strides in his technique and certainly seems to understand the need to gain consistency at this point in his career, but all of this will be happening at the AHL level for the next couple of years barring any injuries to Rask or Khudobin. One has to wonder if Subban is going to end up in another NHL organization via trade given the current goaltending situation in Boston. Subban won’t be getting his NHL shot anytime soon in Boston and he still has work to do before he’s even earned it. With Rask a fixture in Boston and Subban’s lack of clear dominance in the AHL, it makes one wonder why the B’s selected him in the first round back in 2012 when clearly there were bigger organizational needs.
The Bruins announced some organizational signings and one surprise dip into late summer free agency with a one-year, $900,000 contract for 36-year-old depth center Dominic Moore.
The B’s also announced one year, two-way contracts for forward Brian Ferlin, along with defensemen Chris Casto and Alex Grant, and all three of those players will serve as young, organizational depth players in Providence.
Moore has spent each of the last three seasons with the New York Rangers amid a career 765 NHL games played as a solid face-off and penalty-kill player that has fourth line candidate written all over him.
The Bruins will be former Harvard center Moore’s 10th NHL team. He’s coming off a season where he posted six goals and 15 points in 80 games for the Blueshirts, and has previously played for Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Toronto, Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, Tampa Bay and San Jose along with the Rangers.
While Moore is a solid candidate for fourth-line duty that will provide leadership, good face-off work, solid and gritty penalty-kill work and all kinds of NHL experience, he is also a 36-year-old on a team that has a ton of center candidates headed into camp.
Moore’s presence could be problematic if he’s standing in the way of developing young centers Austin Czarnik and Noel Acciari. The expectation is that B’s coach Claude Julien, as he always has in the past with safe veterans like Chris Kelly, will go with a player like Moore over the youngsters if times start getting tough for the Black and Gold.
Ferlin, 24, completed his second professional season with the AHL's Providence Bruins in 2015-16, producing six goals and eight assists for 14 points with 27 penalty minutes and a plus-nine rating in 23 games. He was sidelined for much of last season in Providence by a concussion.
Casto, 24, completed his third full AHL season with Providence in 2015-16, establishing career highs with seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points with 47 penalty minutes in 68 games.
Grant, 27, spent the 2015-16 season with the Arizona Coyotes organization, splitting time between the Coyotes and their AHL affiliate in Springfield. He recorded seven penalty minutes in five games in the NHL, while compiling 11 goals and 31 assists for 42 points with 57 penalty minutes in 69 games in the AHL.
BRIGHTON – It only amounts to lip service coming in the first few days the Bruins players are simply getting together for informal captain’s practices, but it’s pretty clear the fire is burning brightly after missing the playoffs two years in a row.
For a group that still includes some players that made the playoffs seven seasons in a row, made it to the Cup Finals twice and hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011, it feels like that sting of pride is very close to the surface.
Torey Krug wouldn’t even entertain discussion of last season when asked about it following Monday’s skating session at the new Warrior Ice Arena practice facility. David Krejci said he’s officially done talking about winning the Cup five long years ago. Now, it’s about righting the ship for the Bruins, and getting things back moving in a positive, forward progression after moving backwards and sideways over the last two years.
As always, the playmaking Krejci gives a straight, honest take about where the team is on the down side of their Cup years.
“I feel like we’re back to where we started 10 years ago, you know? The teams didn’t make the playoffs, and now we kind of have some new guys. It’s still a good mix with some experienced guys,” said Krejci. “But the hunger, it’s there again. Obviously we haven’t been in the playoffs for a couple of years. It’s exciting times.
“If you go back to 2011 and then to 2013, we were in the Final. But we knew that we had already won two years before. We did try, but you always knew in the back of your mind that you’d already won the Cup. Now, it’s like the Cup is out of the window and that was a long time ago. I’m going to talk about the Cup when I retire, so now we’re all hungry again. We missed the playoffs two years in a row, and it’s a new excitement again. I just can’t wait to get back into it.”
Krejci’s first full season in the NHL was actually the year that the B’s made it back into the postseason in 2007-08, but he was close enough to the organization to see what it was like at the 2006 training camp when a great deal was in flux for the Black and Gold.
It’s not unlike the big changes that the Bruins have seen in the past two years with the hopes that there will start being a payoff in the near future.
It’s exciting for Krejci, in particular, as he should be 100 percent healthy for the first time in three years after surgery on his left hip last spring. A healthy Krejci and Patrice Bergeron will give the Black and Gold their potent 1-2 punch down the middle and there’s also a healthy chip on the shoulder of the B’s defensemen crew after a difficult campaign last year.
Krug admitted as much while brushing off big picture questions about what happened last season, and why this season should be any different for a group of seven defensemen returning from last season’s crew ranked 19th in the league.
“I’m not going to talk about [last year]. We’re moving on. This group will use it as motivation moving forward. With this new practice facility, everybody is excited to get back together and start moving forward,” said Krug. “We have [D-men] pieces in here that maybe people aren’t getting too excited about, but we know what we have in this room. We’ve grown and developed together.
“We know that we’re highly capable of taking whatever is thrown our way. But I know the D-men especially are motivated to prove a lot of people wrong that we’re not ready to compete, and not ready to be a playoff team.”
That’s essentially what it comes down to for the Black and Gold. They can talk about regaining the hunger to compete and utilizing last season’s failures as motivation for this season, but it all amounts to nothing unless they show it on the ice on a consistent basis.
It will be months before everybody truly knows if it’s more than talk from the Bruins and before we learn whether the B’s even have the talent on the roster to truly compete in a difficult, improving Atlantic Division.
For now, the optimism is running high for the returning Black and Gold players and that registers as something as they slowly ramp up to the start of training camp next month and the season opener on Oct. 13 in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.