WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins had just completed a 40-minute practice, and all the players were off the ice, as rookie goaltender Malcolm Subban collected the pucks and placed them in a milk crate.
It’s a typical job for any rookie and he understands his role as the backup goalie to starter Tuukka Rask. Subban’s status with the team, however, is still a work in progress.
Boston’s first-round pick (No. 24 overall) in the 2012 entry draft, Subban was recalled from Providence of the AHL for the first time last Friday. The original plan was for him to remain in Boston only through the weekend. He served as Rask’s backup during Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings, but when Monday rolled around Subban was still here. He again served as the backup for Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers and it appears he could remain through the weekend.
The Bruins have back-to-back home games this weekend, hosting the New York Islanders on Saturday before the Montreal Canadiens come to town on Sunday. When asked if Subban would play in one of those games, Bruins coach Claude Julien said, “We’ll see.”
Subban was recalled to the NHL for the first time after the Bruins decided fellow goaltender Niklas Svedberg needed a conditioning stint with the P-Bruins. Since Boston is in desperate need of points, Julien has been forced to give Rask a bigger workload, leaving Svedberg with limited playing time.
Julien wouldn’t commit when pressed further about the possibility of Subban making his debut before he’s sent back to the minors. Even so, the 21-year-old netminder said he’s ready if he gets the chance.
“My focus is to make sure I’m ready,” Subban said. “When you’re not playing it’s easy to slack off, to say, ‘I’m not playing, so I don’t have to work as hard. I don’t have to stay on as long or get in the gym.’ I’m trying to do the opposite right now, just do a little extra, stay focused and be ready for if I get the opportunity.”
It would be neat if Subban gets the nod against the Canadiens and his brother, P.K., on Sunday, but to Malcolm, the media makes a bigger deal of that than what it means to him (at least at this point of his career).
“It would be pretty cool, but I’m not thinking about it too much,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay focused and whenever my opportunity comes, I’ll be ready.”
In 22 games for the P-Bruins this season, Subban posted a 9-10-2 record, along with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. Prior to his promotion to Boston, he was 2-1-0 in his last three starts for Providence and had allowed only three goals on 91 shots to earn AHL Player of the Week honors.
Even though he’s been relegated to only practice duty, Subban has been thrilled with this opportunity.
“It’s pretty cool, obviously, to be up here and see how professional the guys are,” he said. “I know them from training camp, but to be up here and take it all in is pretty surreal.”
If he does play a game for the Bruins before he’s sent back to Providence, he doesn’t know if there will be any rust to his game since he hasn’t played in a week.
“I would have to play a game to, I guess, tell that,” he said with a laugh. “I feel pretty good in practice. Obviously, I’m adjusting to the shots and the speed of the game.”
When Rask was developing as a prospect in the organization, he was in a similar spot as Subban is now. Rask served as the backup for Tim Thomas and the two eventually became a solid tandem. Since Rask took over the No. 1 role in Boston, he’s had four different backups, including Subban.
“The better goaltending you get, the better team you are,” Julien said. “It should all go into what we call teamwork, and certainly not about one guy pushing the other guy aside. It’s about working together and our goaltenders have done that for years.”
Even though Subban hasn’t played a game in the NHL, being at this level and practicing with the Bruins will pay dividends once he earns that opportunity.
“Those shots that he’s getting here should be a little bit higher grade than what he gets in [the AHL] for obvious reasons,” Julien said. “But it’s a good experience for him. We’re trying to groom him into being the goaltender that we expect him to be and you’ve got to take some steps to do that. This step was part of grooming him and bringing him in and giving him that experience and we’ll see where we go from there.
“Goaltenders, we’ve said before, we take our time with them. They’ve got a lot more pressure than most other players.”
Since he first arrived at rookie development camp in 2012, Subban has matured both on and off the ice. His poise in net also has been a big improvement. He’s athletic and has the skills to succeed at this level. Now it’s only a matter of getting that opportunity.
“From what I’ve seen, his development is going in the right direction,” Julien said.
Instead of picking up pucks after practice, Subban soon will be stopping them in an NHL game.