For the first two and a half years of the Vegas Golden Knights‘ existence, Malcolm Subban was Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup, with plenty of ups and downs, and a not-so-great .397 quality start percentage. Vegas wanted to fortify its tandem, and traded for Chicago Blackhawks netminder Robin Lehner in February 2020. Subban came back the other way, and many viewed him as a throw-in. For Subban, the trade meant that he could make a new first impression.
But Subban waited, and waited some more. In a March 3 game against the Ducks, Corey Crawford needed medical attention. Subban replaced him, but 70 seconds later, he was back on the bench. Then on March 12, the season paused due to COVID-19. When the Blackhawks returned to action in the postseason bubble, Crawford played all 544 minutes over nine games.
In the offseason, the Blackhawks parted ways with Crawford. They were looking for a fresh start too, and opened the goaltending competition up for Subban (age 27), Collin Delia (26) and Kevin Lankinen (25). Subban won the starters’ job for opening night this season — and it was a disaster. He was lit up for five goals (three in the first period) in a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Soon, Lankinen took hold of the starters’ role, and Subban was once again the backup.
While many counted out Subban yet again, he put his head down and worked. Quietly, since opening night, Subban has gone 4-2-1 with a .918 save percentage and one shutout. The surprisingly good Blackhawks are in playoff position, and those around the organization insist the goaltending situation is far from resolved.
Subban is used to living in the shadow of the spotlight. His older brother, P.K., is one of the NHL’s most recognizable faces. But Malcolm has his own personality, and his own hockey journey. Here’s more on Malcolm Subban, in his own words.
On getting traded …
I had never been traded before. I didn’t know it was coming. My mom had just got to town in Vegas, but it was kind of a blessing to have her there, because I had to leave that night and I had to pack up a lot of stuff in my apartment. Obviously once it all settled down, I knew I was coming to a great organization. They had won three Stanley Cups in the last 10 years. Their focus was on winning, so I was hopeful I could be part of the process to get them back to the top.
On having to wait to get his first start in Chicago …
I wanted to get the first one out of the way, at least. When you come to a new team, you want to show everyone you can play and what you can bring to the table. So that’s the frustrating part. But Corey [Crawford] was playing well, and the team was on a streak when I got here. … It made it easier obviously to watch Corey and learn from him. He’s a great goaltender.
Then this year, I was just happy to get my first start. Took a while to get my first start at home. I was a little nervous, obviously. Even though there are no fans, I was still a little nervous to get my first start at the United Center. The second one went a little better, I got my first win there.
On moving on from his forgettable 2021 opening night …
It was a different schedule, with no exhibitions and stuff. I think we were all a little bit nervous going up against the Cup champs. Once we settled down, and got our feet under us, we started to take off. Hopefully we can keep that going for sure.
On his mindset this season …
My job is to give my team a chance to win everytime I’m on the ice. There’s some games where I didn’t start well, or may have let in a bad goal or two, and our team has come back and rallied to win the games. That’s the sign of a good team. We’ve been doing really well with the adversity we’ve faced, and obviously we’re going to have more coming down the stretch, with teams starting to pick it up, teams behind us trying to catch us.
I’m happy to get in there whenever I can, whether I’m playing three in a row or once every three weeks. Because ultimately what we’re building toward is building a winning culture, and getting back to the top. So every time you’re in there, you just want to give your team the chance to win. And if you’re not in there, you want to give your other teammates confidence so they can get the job done.
On his hockey roots …
My dad had me on skates at about two. Then I started playing at three, in house league. Grew up in Toronto Ontario, on the west side. I grew up playing with my brothers, my dad was actually my coach. I was a defenseman, like my brothers, all the way from when I was playing rec at four and a half, five years old, all the way until I turned 11. Then my 11-, 12-year-old season, my dad stopped coaching me. I always wanted to play goalie, and he finally let me.
I just had this passion for goaltending that I loved. If we were playing on the backyard rink, I always went in net, even though I was a defenseman. In the hallways, I’d always try to go in net somehow.
On growing up as P.K.’s little brother …
It was cool because he paved the way for me. I don’t know if I was an airhead or what, but I didn’t really know about the OHL, or junior leagues, or the path to get to the NHL. I just knew about the NHL, and that’s where we all had dreams of playing.
I remember when P.K. got drafted to the OHL, I was a kid and I was like, ‘What? He didn’t get drafted to the NHL? Is he not good?’
Then I found out about the OHL, and learned about it, we started going to watch him up in Belleville [Ontario]. I just fell in love with the team, the organization, the OHL. I just couldn’t wait to go to the next game. If it was a school night, like sometimes on Wednesdays they played, my parents wouldn’t bring us. And I was like the most depressed kid ever.
Then I got to play for Belleville … I’m used to being known as his little brother. A few guys there even called me P.K. I didn’t care, I just thought it was funny. I was just so used to the town, and so happy for the chance to play there.
On his hockey idols …
Growing up, I took a lot from goaltenders in the NHL. The main two I watched when I first started out, first started playing were [Henrik] Lundqvist and [Marc-Andre] Fleury. Those are the guys I really tried to model my game after.
Yes, it was very trippy when [Marc-Andre and I] became teammates. I’ll never forget the first time I went into the room, after the first practice. He was sitting in his stall, and I was just staring at him. Like, I can’t believe I get to play with this guy.
On his hobbies …
I’ve been learning guitar over the last several years, getting pretty decent at it. I played piano growing up.
I like to do a lot of stuff, I really like to mountain bike. I actually found some trails about 30 minutes from Chicago, then I went on the Lakeshore trail, biked on there a couple times with my mountain bike. Mainly I do it back home in the summer.
On bonding with teammates in this unusual season …
It’s definitely been tough. We really have been cherishing the time we’re able to spend together, because we can’t get together like usual. Obviously winning helps too, helps bond us together, good vibes after the games.
I bring my Xbox on road trips. Some of the other guys bring their Xbox’s too. Connor Murphy just got one of those portable neck of the guitars, which is a portable road thing. So I’m looking at getting one of those too to keep practicing on the road.
On how he wants to be known …
I’d like to be known as a good person. A pretty easy-going guy, but I like to have fun, I like to joke around with the guys.
I’m competitive. I don’t like to lose. I really don’t like to lose. I like to trash talk the guys, get everyone fired up.
On the easiest teammate to chirp …
Andrew Shaw. You can get him going pretty easy. I really like chirping at Shawzy, he’s fun to chirp for sure. I like competing with him in pingpong, but he’s really good at pingpong. One time we were kind of rallying — playing, but not really keeping score — so he wasn’t trying very hard, but I beat him, and I hold it over his head. Still. I know I can’t beat him in a real, fair game, so I always talk about that one time. He gets so worked up about it too. If you ever ask him about me beating him in pingpong, he’ll lose his mind.
On the Blackhawks’ culture …
The work we’ve put in, the way we’ve come together since the start of the season, I don’t think it’s a surprise of where we are right now. First of all, you start with Kaner [Patrick Kane] and Duncs [Duncan Keith]. They’ve won before, they know what it takes, and it’s infectious the way they carry themselves — the work they put in, the dedication they have.
It’s an unbelievable core of young guys, we’re all really close. But I feel like the veterans have done a really good job of embracing the younger guys, making them feel part of the team right away, which gives them confidence. It shows on the ice, the young guys are playing with a lot of confidence right now.