With playoffs just two weeks away, teams should be starting to wonder what roles their rookies are capable of playing in these intense games. Likewise, rookies should understand that their confidence will be challenged, and they will be expected to adjust their style in order to be able to help their team in the playoffs.
Many players will tell you that it is not easy playing in your first few playoff games. Both Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin experienced first-round exits in their playoff debuts. While they still played well in their first series, they both admitted that they had far less room to work with, and that there was a significant increase in containment by opponents.
To sum it up, they revealed that the playoffs is a whole new concept. So if the two greatest players in hockey admitted struggle in their first postseasons, is there any current rookie who may be playoff ready by mid April?
Although it is a little unfair to still consider P.K. Subban a rookie after 14 games of NHL playoff experience, this rookie came into the league, fully adjusted for the postseason. Subban had only played two career regular season games prior to his playoff debut, but recorded eight points and held a plus-two rating in his first postseason, in 2010.
This is admirable for a rookie with no experience, considering Montreal Canadien players are among the most pressured to perform. The 21-year-old carried along his offensive talent to this season, recording 35 points in 72 games up to date, including a hat trick (as a defenseman).
Clearly, it has not been all smooth sailing for this rookie this regular season. P.K. had to overcome a significant deal of criticism from coaches, fans, and opposing players. He was also a healthy scratch numerous times throughout the season, and was forced to watch multiple consecutive games from the press box.
Being in spot between being sent to the minors and not playing on the team for a few games will be enough to drive anyone crazy from the press box, and it showed when Subban got into a scuffle during practice one morning.
However, there has not been a rookie as cool, calm, and collected, overall, as P.K Subban, in regards to his given situation. Subban continues to play with great swagger and confidence, despite playing under tremendous scrutiny, and like the Bad Boys Entertainment of the late '90s, he can't stop and he won't stop. While some aspects of his defensive decisions have been questionable on many occasions this year, he is progressing in his maturity as a hockey player, and only going uphill from hereon.
There may be many rookies that are better Calder candidates than Subban this year, but there are many reasons why P.K. will be a better playoff performer in April.
First of all, Subban has the cocky character and indomitable spirit that will motivate him to be whatever player he wants to be. Unlike many rookies, he has the confidence of a Stanley Cup champion. He believes in himself and his teammates believe in him. If he makes a mistake, it will not be a product of self inadequacy. Also, getting pushed around, which is common among younger players, will certainly not be a factor for this tough defenseman.
Second, P.K. has already been able to rattle a number of veterans (or at least top players) on opposing teams, including the infamous occasion where Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards publicly spoke out to the media about Subban's cockiness. Rookies respect players who have been around the league longer than them, and Subban claims to as well; however, he will not put any opposing player on the pedestal when they are on the same ice.
As opposed to other rookies, who will find themselves under containment by opponent veterans, or intimidated by opposing scoring talent, Subban will be opposite, as he will be the one containing opposing superstar forwards and getting under the skin of character players.
Third, Subban has the scoring upside to lift his team in the playoffs, and he showed it a year ago. With the Habs already depleted in defense, as Andrei Markov, their go-to puck moving defenseman, will unlikely see any postseason this year, scoring from the blue line will come from James Wisniewski and P.K Subban.
Also, the top forwards of the Montreal Canadiens have been useless during several stretches throughout the season, so this gives the offensive D-man even more of a reason to take matters into his own hands.
By no means, is P.K. Subban a proven bona fide superstar, or even a near fully developed NHL player, but he definitely has what it takes to elevate his performance, when it matters, above any other rookie in this year's class. Safe to say, most of this season's top rookies will not even be going to the dance this spring. The ones that will, may see limited roles as they already play on stacked teams.
Playoffs are built on character, talent, and heart, and the package known as P.K Subban appears to hold all three.