ONTARIO, CA — When the Los Angeles Kings sent center Nic Dowd to the Vancouver Canucks, in exchange for defenseman Jordan Subban on December 7, 2017, the question among pundits and fans alike was, “Is he anywhere near as good as P.K.?”
Both Jordan and P.K. are great skaters and have strong offensive skills and instincts. But that’s where the comparisons end, at least for the time being.
To illustrate, P.K. is 6-0, 200 pounds, while Jordan is 5-9, 180 pounds, and while P.K. is very, very solid on the defensive side of the puck, the youngest Subban brother has much to work on in that regard. Of course, P.K. is six years older and a lot more experienced than Jordan, who is still developing as a National Hockey League prospect.
Jordan recorded five assists while playing for the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League to start the season and was slowed by an upper body injury before the trade (the Kings were aware of the injury prior to the trade).
With the Ontario Reign of the AHL, Jordan has played in 17 games this season, scoring four goals and adding three assists for seven points, with a -2 plus/minus rating and 18 penalty minutes.
“When I came here, I was hurt, a little bit, but I feel like I’m getting up to speed with all the systems and everything,” he said. “Everybody from the coaching staff to the players made me feel welcome as soon as I got here. It’s been great, so far.”
Jordan’s skating and offensive skills quickly caught the eyes of the Reign coaching staff.
“He can skate, there’s no doubt about that,” said head coach Mike Stothers. “He gets around the ice really well. He’s got a really good release, a good shot. He’s an offensive-minded defenseman, and that’s something teams are always looking for. He can be that fourth guy on the rush. He can lead the rush.”
“My skating is my biggest asset,” said Jordan. “I’m a fast player, and I like to make plays. I’m a guy who can play on the power play and generate some offense. That’s my game.”
But in just his second full season in the AHL after playing four years with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, Jordan is learning, often the hard way, that his defensive play needs a lot of work.
“It was a big eye-opener, coming to the AHL,” he noted. “I remember that I was surprised at how skilled the players in this league really were. In junior, if you’re a top player there, you can get away with not being as good, defensively. But here, everyone is so good, you’ve got to be defensively responsible whenever you’re on the ice, or you’re not going to play.”
To be sure, Jordan was a top offensive defenseman in the major junior hockey ranks in Canada. But as he said, although he could get away with not always being defensively responsible while he played for Belleville, he cannot do that at the AHL level with the Reign, and that’s been the challenge for him in the early going.
“There’s a lot of times that he’s leading our forecheck,” Stothers said, laughing, but only half-joking. “But it’s like everything else. Everyone has their strengths, and when you do, that’s typically what you work on the most.”
“If you’re a home run hitter in baseball, you’re typically among the guys who spend the most time in the batting cage, jacking balls out of the park, instead of working on their fielding, or whatever,” Stothers added. “It’s just a matter of spending a little bit more time, and paying closer attention to improving upon the things you’re not quite as strong in.”
Stothers pointed out that Jordan’s skating, speed, and offense are skills that are coveted in defenseman in today’s NHL, more so now than ever before. But there is a reason the position is still called, “defenseman.”
“What he has are abilities that are difficult to coach—that offensive instinct, the offensive gifts that he has, not to mention his skating and his shot,” said Stothers. “But the position he’s playing is defense, so you’ve got to be able to defend. That’s the biggest thing in today’s game. Everybody can skate, and if, for example, you look at the Kings with Drew Doughty, he brings an added dimension. He can get up the ice, and he’s creative. He sees the ice so well, and he make plays. But he’s also counted on, immensely, to go up against the other team’s top forwards, and play a lot of minutes. In order to do that, you’ve got to have a commitment to your own end.”
“That’s the biggest thing we’ve seen for Jordan, the fact that he really excels in the one area,” added Stothers. “As for the other area, he’s willing to learn, and he’s making a conscious effort to be a little bit more reliable in our end, when we don’t have the puck, making sure we get it back, making the right reads, and the right plays, and just being what a defenseman is supposed to be, a good defender.”
Jordan will never become a big, hulk of a defenseman. Nevertheless, adding strength is critical for him.
“Everybody has to have some form of conditioning and/or strength,” Stothers noted. “You’ve got to have a strong core. In order to impede anyone’s progress, you’ve got to have body positioning and your body has to be able to sustain what you’re trying to have it do.”
As Stothers alluded to, being a smaller player, positioning is even more critical for Jordan than it is for a bigger defenseman.
“Positioning is everything for him, because he’s not big enough to overpower somebody,” he emphasized. “If you compare him to a guy like [6-7, 224-pound Kings defenseman prospect Stepan] Falkovsky, he can lose a step to somebody and make up for it because of his long reach and long stick. A smaller stature defenseman has to be, not punishing, physically, but he has to be able to contain, eliminate, and end plays. That’s plain and simple.”
“A lot of plays are below the goal line now,” he added. “Forwards are coming out of the corner or using the back of the net. You have to be able to get yourself in a position where you can impede your opponent’s progress and separate him from the puck. It’s not so much about the big, crunching body checks. It’s about separation of the man from the puck.”
“Gap control and position are the big things we’re working on with Jordan because he is listed as a defenseman, not a forward.”
Jordan has spent a lot of time working with the Reign coaching staff and the Kings development staff, focusing almost exclusively on his defensive play.
“The coaching staff has worked hard with me,” he said. “They make themselves available to me every day, which helps me carve out opportunities to get better. That’s all you can really ask for.”
“[The Kings development staff talks] about the same things,” he added. “It’s not about offense. It’s about defense. That’s what’s going to get me to the NHL, and I know that. That’s why I continue to work so hard on it.”
As Stothers noted, they’re working on gap control and positioning with Jordan.
“It’s just closing on guys, and being harder to play against,” said Jordan. “Especially with some of the bigger players, I have to find a way to defend, and take away a guy’s time and space. That’s not easy, being a small guy—at this level, everybody’s good. That’s what I’ve been working on, and I’m going to keep trying to get better.”
“I just have to try to be in good position.,” added Jordan. “I’m not the biggest guy, so if guys are getting position on me, that’ll make my job even harder, so I’ve been working on that, as well, trying to play smarter. I have to try to box guys out early—it’s hard once those big guys are in front. It’s hard to move them.”
As reported here, the Reign and the Kings want Jordan to focus on becoming a solid, reliable defender. But at the same time, they do not want him to lose his offensive instincts.
“You’ve just got to pick your spots,” Jordan said about jumping into the play in the offensive zone. “I think I’ve gotten better at that—I’m not trying to lead the rush every time. Every player is so skilled. I’m trying to trust my forwards more and instead, join late.”
Despite Jordan’s rather glaring shortcomings on the defensive side of the puck, Stothers warned against writing him off so early in his professional career.
“We didn’t have Jordan during training camp,” he observed. “But the reason we got him was because of what he brings—some offense, skating ability, and his offensive instincts, so he’s well worth the time and effort to try and improve upon the things the organization feels we can instill in him, and he’s young enough. It’s just a matter of showing him what we need him to do, and then, helping him execute, or instill in him the ways he needs to play in order for him to become a more effective and more complete defenseman.”
“With Jordan, maybe we’ve got to slow down his flight patterns, somewhat,” he added, again laughing, but only half-joking. “There is some defending involved, being a defenseman.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Jordan Subban (left), shown here during a recent game against the Texas Stars. Photo: Jessica Harsen/Courtesy Ontario Reign.
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