Under The Bleachers: The Most Exciting Player In Hockey

Above: The most exciting player in hockey right now is...

For a bunch of men who play the most exciting sport in the world, hockey players are so boring.

Sidney Crosby can make the most electrifying plays on ice; Steven Stamkos can score goals mere mortals can’t even dream of; Henrik Lundqvist could probably backstop a Junior B team to the NHL conference finals. And every one of them, dull as dishwater.

When Alex Ovechkin exploded into the league in 2005 he looked like the kind of player who could break the mold of hockey-player-as-passionless-robot. He finished third in the NHL in both goals and points—ahead of Crosby—but also 14th in hits. And he followed every goal with a full-speed leap into the glass, as if he’d won the lottery, cured cancer and been asked out by a model in the same split second. Here was the guy who had equal amounts of talent and enthusiasm, something the game desperately needed coming out of the lockout-lost 2004-05 season.

But as Ovechkin matured—and worked through the occasional slump—he seemed to lose that wild-eyed recklessness that made him so exciting to watch. So where to look for a player with youthful verve and zeal to rescue us from the doldrums of by-the-numbers goals and reserved tip-of-the-cap celebrations?

There’s one player that every hockey fan has an opinion on—one player who’s always involved in the play, whether he’s pounding a slapshot from the point, throwing a booming check, taking an ill-advised penalty or completely flubbing an assignment. He’s a 25-year-old Norris Trophy-winning defenseman for the vaunted Montreal Canadiens, he wears number 76 and goes by the hockey-appropriate moniker of PK Subban.

Subban has been a polarizing figure since his first shift for the Canadiens, drawing the ire of purists who thought he was too animated in his celebrations—one of which was eventually banned by his coach—too chatty on the ice and not reverent enough of his tiny place in the grand game of hockey. Basically, just like Ovechkin back in 2005, he was having too much fun.

But Subban has continued to silence naysayers and win over doubters with his consistent offensive production and candid commentary. While he’s matured some over the past four seasons, he hasn’t turned down his personality one bit. 

Where lesser players may have been ashamed after taking a thoughtless roughing penalty in a playoff game—and less exciting players would have avoided a penalty at all costs—Subban’s Game Three miscue against Boston somehow led to him scoring a pretty breakaway goal. That’s classic Subban: try to make a big play, screw it up, and eventually erase the mistake with an even bigger play.

Off the ice Subban has been nothing short of a role model, especially considering, as a black player in an overwhelmingly monochromatic league, he’s had to endure more than most NHLers. In just the past two weeks he was subjected to thousands of racist tweets after scoring the winning goal in a double overtime game against the Boston Bruins. Where many hockey players would have chosen not to comment or given a vague dismissal, Subban eloquently spoke his mind, evoking the storied history of the Bruins franchise and praising the fanbase while insisting the foul words of a few Twitter users have no connection with the game he plays.

His detractors must be absolutely stuffed from eating all their words—not only has Subban matured into one of the best defensemen in the world, he did it without changing who he is or how he plays. If he’s on the ice you’ll know it, and after the game you’ll hear about it.

Now that the Canadiens are headed to the conference finals against the New York Rangers we’ll get to see at least four more games’ worth of PK Subban this season, and thank goodness—think of how boring the Stanley Cup playoffs would be without the most exciting player in hockey.

Tags: Hockey, NHL

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