In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.
When Malcolm Subban hit waivers last October, the Golden Knights were several months removed from completing their expansion draft in which they selected and retained two goaltenders in Marc-Andre Fleury and Calvin Pickard. Vegas followed that up by signing Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace and then acquiring Dylan Ferguson via trade. The cupboard seemed pretty well-stocked.
But when the former first-round pick became available, George McPhee took a chance. It meant rolling with Subban as the backup goaltender instead of a more established netminder in Pickard (who was later traded to Toronto, where he served as a backup goaltender for the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate).
Subban rewarded the Knights by providing stable goaltending in a season replete with injuries. Not bad for his first year.
Season in review
When Subban was thrust into the crease following Fleury’s injury, the weight of the franchise seemed to be on his shoulders. The pressure felt especially significant considering he held a 5.81 goals-against average and .727 save percentage in two career NHL appearances. But he stepped up in a big way, ultimately winning his first four starts.
But like almost every Golden Knights goaltender who suited up for more than one game in 2017-18, Subban quickly went down with an injury. He missed time with a back injury at the beginning of the year and a groin injury in the playoffs, making health one of the top concerns from his first NHL campaign.
Even with the injury, Subban excelled early on in the season, posting a 2.29 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in his first 11 games. But his numbers dropped considerably in the second half of the year as he recorded a 3.08 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in his final 11 games.
His record in the first 11 games: 8-2-0. His record in the second 11: 5-2-2.
Over the course of the regular season, Subban managed a 2.68 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, which is about average for a goaltender. His overall record was impressive at 13-4-2, but the second half of his season was lacking, and that left somewhat of a sour taste in the mouth.
Subban was brought down by his even-strength save percentage (.908) and his high-danger save percentage (.883). Those aren’t necessarily bad numbers for a rookie goaltender, but there is certainly room for improvement.
He also was one of the very few goaltenders to play more than 20 games and not record a shutout. That does not put him in good company, being among the likes of Anton Forsberg, David Rittich and Mike Condon. Braden Holtby was in that group as well, oddly.
Subban made several important saves, but here’s a particularly memorable one:
This series of saves shows off his athleticism in a game where he held one of the best teams in the NHL to just three goals. He uses positioning and his frame to keep himself in front of the puck, even in the high-danger zone.
It also shows Subban’s lack of rebound control, which is another aspect of his game that he needs to improve. If he can control the puck after making multiple saves due to his solid positioning and excellent athletic ability, Subban could come away with a .918 save percentage.
KOI composite grade: B+
When Subban was added to the mix after Vegas claimed him off waivers, it was hard to know what sort of expectations were realistic. The Boston Bruins had moved on from him, albeit unwillingly, after he remained stuck in the AHL for years. If he was somewhat competent in net, he would be fine. He may not have been consistent, but he was more than fine.
However, he set the bar high early and then failed to live up to the hype he created. If he had, he likely would have gotten an even higher grade. But he’s a young goaltender who hadn’t played much at the NHL level (two starts), so he was bound to regress down the stretch.
No one at Knights On Ice gave Subban anything lower than a B, and two people gave him an A-. He did well, but he hasn’t yet reached his ceiling, leaving plenty of room for improvement.
Looking ahead to 2018-19
The fact that Subban played so well early in the season proves that he can be a reliable goalie at the NHL level. He just needs to be more consistent.
He also needs to work on his rebound control. If he learns to control the puck after making a save and can be more consistent with the level of play he demonstrated early on, Subban could be on his way to becoming a Golden Knights goalie for the long haul.
With the tutelage of goalie coach Dave Prior and (hopefully) better health in 2018-19, Subban could do just that. Sitting back, taking on a heavier workload to alleviate some of the pressure on Fleury and continuing to find his footing could provide a long-term boost to Subban’s game. Maybe the goaltender the Golden Knights were looking for wasn’t in the expansion draft, wasn’t in the NHL Entry Draft and wasn’t signed in free agency. Maybe, just maybe, he was the last goalie aboard for Year 1 in Vegas.
The future is in Subban’s hands; it’s just a matter of what he makes of his opportunity.
How would you grade Subban’s 2017-18 performance?
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C- or below