PK Subban of the Montreal Canadiens carries the puck at the Bell Centre on September 27, 2010. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
He arrived faster than expected, having outgrown the American Hockey League in a hurry. Immediately, he played a major role as the Montreal Canadiens reached the Eastern Conference Final, only to lose in five games to Philadelphia Flyers.
At 20, he was already a star, an enormous fan favourite. Probably before he was really ready.
Are we talking about PK Subban? Maybe. But we could also be talking about Carey Price.
Price had a bit more of a pedigree before each man's first brush with the playoff spotlight. He'd played 41 NHL games, won a Calder Cup and a world junior gold medal. Subban owns one more world junior gold than his netminding buddy, but had 39 fewer games of NHL experience.
We all know what happened to Price. After a great start to the 2008-09 season and an all-star appearance, his game fell apart. In an interview earlier this year, he called that "the lowest moment" of his career, still not understanding what went wrong.
As the Canadiens were swept by the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, Price was yanked in Boston, then booed at home. He reacted angrily on the ice, something Tim Thomas later said a goalie should never do.
As we all know now, it took Price a year to recover. Clearly, however, the Canadiens believed it would happen.
"He's gone through having things come easy to him, and then he's went through a stage when things are harder," said Pierre Groulx, Montreal's goalie coach. "Actually, we had a conversation in the middle of (last) year where I said to him, 'You'll be thankful for this year later on in your career, because you need to go through this.' He probably agrees now that he needed to go through it to succeed."
Which brings us back to Subban. He may be two years younger than Price, but there are similarities. Both were extremely sure of themselves upon their NHL arrival, impressively so for young men in what Jacques Martin once called a "man's game."
Subban is amazingly confident, and my limited experience with him makes it seem hard to believe he would ever lose that. But Price did, and boy did he ever. For a time, he was absolutely crushed by the realities of the NHL.
I still think sitting Subban three straight games is overly punitive. But when a former NHL coach presented this Price Theory to me, well, it made sense. There's no way the stodgy Martin enjoys Subban's freelancing, but there could be something deeper at work here.
"Anybody will tell you, you don't know what you have until it's gone. And that's kind of true," Price said upon arriving at camp this season. He learned that the hard way.
Sounds like the Canadiens want to make sure Subban never gets that far.
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