WILMINGTON — It was dark in the backyard, as the brothers played yet another game of hockey. Malcolm Subban stood in front of the goal, a 10-year-old at the mercy of the 14-year-old P.K., a future NHL star and Norris Trophy winner.
P.K. sent a shot hurtling toward Malcolm, who at that time had yet to make the full-time move to goalie. He knew the puck was coming toward him, but couldn’t see it, couldn’t see much of anything.
He stuck his glove over his face. The puck went into it.
Perhaps this goaltending business wasn’t so bad.
Back in suburban Toronto, they played for fun. They didn’t think about the NHL, not in any real way, not yet. They certainly didn’t imagine playing on opposite sides of an epic hockey rivalry (which, when questioned about all the questions this week, prompted Malcolm to complain good-naturedly that “it’s kind of annoying”), with P.K. a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
About two years after that lucky save, Malcolm made the switch to goaltending from defense, the position that both of his brothers — Jordan was a 2013 draft pick of the Canucks — play. And that position, moving to goalie, landed him with the Bruins, a first-round choice in 2012, though one with a long road to the net in Boston.
It was after the draft that he saw something he thought he’d never see: His father, Karl, wearing a Bruins hat, one of Malcolm’s. Karl, whose older son already played for his favorite team, was as unlikely a person as there was to don the Spoked-B.
Asked if he ever imagined his father wearing a Bruins hat, Malcolm said, “No, not really. But it was pretty cool to see him wearing it.”
He’s even worn it a few times since.
Subban, though, is unlikely to wear Bruins gear any time soon — at least as a member of the NHL squad. Not only do the Bruins like to be patient with goalies, but the team last week signed starter Tuukka Rask to an eight-year extension worth $56 million.
“Obviously, I’m not that level yet,” said Subban, who is participating in his second development camp with the Bruins this weekend. “He’s at his prime. He’s one of the elite goaltenders in the league, top three for sure. His contract tells that, obviously.
“So, that’s not my focus right now. It’s great for him. He deserves it. He’s played well in the playoffs and had a great year. My focus right now is just to try to hopefully get myself up to the AHL level, and the NHL level will come.”
That’s the plan for Subban, for him to move up from junior hockey to the pros next season, likely putting him alongside Niklas Svedberg in Providence.
“There’s no roadblocks in anybody’s way here,” assistant general manager Don Sweeney said. “You look at Tuukka as he’s been patient at times to be sort of the understudy and understand it, and he’s had some ebbs and flows as well. Some successes and all of a sudden some stepbacks.
“That’s all healthy in a person’s development . . . I don’t think [Subban’s] in a rush, nor should he be, and he should just sort of embrace what’s in front of him and that moment. I think he does a good job of that. He’s a really competitive guy. So, he’s going to want the net, and you love that in a goaltender.”
Subban spent the 2012-13 season with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, amassing a 29-11-4 record with a 2.14 goals-against average and .934 save percentage, both tops in the league. In the postseason, he was 11-4-2 with a 2.00 GAA and .933 save percentage, as the Bulls were upset by the Barrie Colts.
“The experience that he went through being challenged, having a little bit of disappointment, I think really sets him up well for that next phase of his career because he’s going to go in against much better shooters than what he’s been facing on a regular basis,” Sweeney said.
“He’s such an athletic goaltender that has so much promise.”
Because Subban didn’t become a full-time goaltender until he was 12 — and he’s just 19 now — that leaves more room for improvement than it might with other goalies of the same age.
As Subban said, “I feel like I’m still young. I’ve still got a lot to learn. I feel like I still can improve in the gym and off the ice . . . making me feel more confidence on the ice. That’ll go a long way for me.”
And spending time as a defenseman changed his development in another way, too, making him a better skater than some other goaltenders. That, he said, helps in his ability to go side to side, to clear the puck.
He had played goalie before, mostly in his basement, mostly against his brothers, in those younger years. But with his father as his coach, he was able to make the change. And that has landed him in Boston, with still a long way to go before he might ever stand in front of the net at TD Garden.
“I just really loved the position,” he said. “I really had a passion for it. I just loved goaltending.”
But would he have made it had he not? Would he have joined his brothers in being drafted as a defenseman?
“I have no clue,” Subban said. “I heard I was a pretty good defenseman.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.