Escapability. While unrecognized by orthodox glossaries, the made-up noun is popular in today's contact-sport jargon. Like its more conventional stepsiblings (i.e., speed, strength, intelligence), the skill of being able to evade aggressive capture -- a football tackle or a hockey body-check -- is roundly admired. You can't crush what you can't catch. And defenseman Jordan Subban has "escapability" coming out the wazoo.
The trait is handy, since the Belleville Bulls defenseman isn't a big guy by anyone's measuring stick. Listed at only 5-foot-9, the youngest of three hockey-playing Subban brothers is considered the full package otherwise. Lauded for his vision, on-ice intelligence, stickhandling abilities and shot, Subban is already a standout at both ends of the ice for the OHL's Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. But as far as the club's general manager/head coach is concerned, it's the teen's ability to move his feet that makes him so special.
"Because he's not a monster [in terms of] physical size, if bigger guys are moving and he's standing still, he's going to take penalties or he's going to get beat," said George Burnett, comparing Subban to former OHL defenseman Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators) and Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers. "But that's no different from any other young player. When his feet are moving, when he's getting in and out of traffic, in and out of trouble, into the corner and out of the corner before a big forechecker comes down on him, he shows his special skills that separate him from a lot of other players."
The top Bulls defenseman in scoring (by a country mile) with 48 points in 59 games, Jordan is equal to regular blue-line partner Jake Worrad with a team-leading plus-18. A recent tear of 17 points in 13 games, including his first OHL hat trick, has only drawn more attention to the soon-to-be 18-year-old. While comparisons to former Bulls D-man P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens, 2nd round, 2007) are inevitable, Burnett suggests a high compete level genuinely seems to run in the family. Like his older brother, Jordan can heavily influence the outcome of a game when at his best.
"He's much more comfortable now," said Burnett, noting the younger Subban is eclipsing P.K.'s OHL numbers through the first same year and a half. "We're asking him to do things that he can go out and -- with confidence -- take charge of ... we've been behind [recently] and he's changed games himself with his skill level and skating ability."
Projected as a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick this past autumn, Subban's draft stock has since increased steadily among many members of the scouting community. For instance, TSN Scout Craig Button has him slotted 54th in February's rankings. And that list includes all 2013 draft-eligible players -- including goaltenders.
Another NHL scout, who also likened Subban to former NHL first-round draft picks Ellis and Murphy, downplayed trepidations about the D-man's smaller frame.
"You don't have to be big if you're fast and smart," said the scout, also heralding the young defenseman's skating above all else. "So long as he gets stronger, he'll be fine."
When the aforementioned "E" word was unleashed, the scout eagerly agreed the term jived perfectly with the young defenseman's skill set.
"Escapability -- exactly," he interrupted, nodding. "Yeah, Jordan has that."
Beyond the impressive set of physical tools, Subban may have another less tangible edge ahead of this year's draft. The young player eagerly acknowledges the advantage gained by having two brothers (Bulls goaltender Malcolm was selected by the Boston Bruins in the first round last June) who have already been through the draft process and, in P.K.'s case, beyond.
"I always get a lot of great advice from P.K. and Malcolm," Subban said after a recent three-point night against the Ottawa 67's. "Whether it's from P.K. on what I have to do to get drafted, or from Malcolm -- who's close -- on what to expect on my draft day. They're both always giving me great advice, and I'm just fortunate to have two great brothers."
And no, there's no extra burden of having to live up to the Subban name.
"I think people might expect more, but for me there's no pressure -- added or lost -- from having two brothers that have been so successful. When I get out there, I'm just playing hockey. It's what I love to do, and I'm just having fun. I don't think about [high expectations] when I'm out on the ice."
Fleet of foot, a great stick, above-average athleticism (attending P.E.A.C. School for Elite Athletes in Toronto hasn't hurt in that regard), smarts and a healthy outlook. As long as he gains strength (a genetically-influenced inch or two wouldn't hurt either -- P.K. measures at 6-feet while Malcolm stands 6-foot-2), the dynamic defenseman could have a long, successful career at the next level. And Burnett insists whichever NHL club calls Subban's name this June is likely to feel fortunate down the road.
"I really believe as he continues to mature -- when he's 19 in this league -- a lot of people will look back and recognize what a special player he's become. And some [NHL team] is going to get a very strong prospect in this June's draft."
Class of 2013
Diminutive in stature, winger Sergey Tolchinsky is starting to create a humongous fuss with his ability to put the puck in the back of the net. In his first OHL season, Tolchinsky has warmed up nicely of late, with five goals and five assists in his past five games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Projected to be a late-round draft pick at best, the Russian will see his draft stock rise if he keeps up this scoring pace. Smaller size (5-foot-9) aside, the young Russian has excellent speed and exceptional hands.
• The top NHL draft prospect in the OHL isn't wasting a single haymaking moment while the sun still shines. With his team well out of the playoff race, forward Sean Monahan of the Ottawa 67's managed to maintain a torrid scoring pace throughout the month of February -- 16 points in 11 games. And, again, that's with the worst club in the league.
There's been talk the projected Top-10 selection could be at a disadvantage by playing for a rebuilding squad, but one NHL scout downplayed that factor.
"Only in the sense that you can't watch him in the playoffs, so he won't be top of mind," he said. "But that's why everyone is trying to see as much of him -- now -- as possible."
In evidence, Ottawa's most recent visit to Belleville drew an exceptionally high number of reps from around the NHL. Not a coincidence. Fact is, Monahan is an elite prospect and scouts' memories aren't that short.
• Forward Bo Horvat of the London Knights continues to inch upward in the collective estimation of the North American scouting community. A potential first-round selection, Horvat was ranked 15th in Central Scouting Service's midterm report (North American skaters).
What's more, ESPN Insider and former NHL scout Grant Sonier suggests the versatile two-way forward could adapt to the NHL faster than most.
"... Horvat, who plays both center and wing, is super smart with and without the puck. He is the type of player whom coaches will have immediate trust in, and who will be able to play many roles, including killing penalties. He is heavy on the puck at 6-foot and 200 pounds and leaves me thinking that he will be better with better players, which is a big compliment to his style of play. He is already playing in an environment in which he does not have to be the go-to guy and is used to changing roles, often within the game itself ..."
Notable NHL prospects
Nick Cousins (Philadelphia Flyers, 3rd round, 2011) is in the league's bad books for a bit of nasty play from last Friday. The OHL's leading scorer has been suspended four games for a check from behind on London Knights defenseman Tommy Hughes. He's eligible to return for the Greyhounds March 7. The time off could be sufficient in knocking the scoring title crown over to Charles Sarault of the Sarnia Sting, who trails Cousins by only a single point.
• After four NHL games, Ryan Murphy (Carolina Hurricanes, 1st round, 2011) has been re-assigned to the Kitchener Rangers. According to Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer, Carolina's coaching staff was impressed with what the 19-year-old defenseman brought to the table during his short stay.
"You can't replace experience," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "I think he's going to go say, 'Hey, I can play here, I know what it's about.' It's not an exhibition game, it's not camp. It was real NHL games and it's late in the season. It's not like it's October. These games are intense. He was put into some tough situations ... I think that experience will make him that much more prepared for when he gets back up. Speedwise, reading the plays, skill level is all NHL quality, for sure."
• The Florida Panthers must be thrilled to bits with how Vincent Trocheck (Panthers, 3rd round, 2011) is producing as a member of the Plymouth Whalers. No scoring slouch with his old club, the Saginaw Spirit, Trocheck has averaged two points per game since joining the Whalers in early January. Only once in 21 contests has the 19-year-old center failed to make a mark on the scoresheet.