The closest P.K. Subban ever came to being a devil before this past June was during his junior hockey days in Belleville when he wore No. 6, creating the 6-6-6 across the back of his jersey.
The NHL draft weekend deal that sent him from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils was expected by the 30-year-old Subban. He had a feeling that he would move on from the Predators in either of the last two offseason, knowing that his time in Music City would be a short one after the shocking trade three years ago from the Montreal Canadiens.
Subban enters a Devils team that is trending upward. Following a playoff-less 2018-19 season, general manager Ray Shero was ready to be aggressive in the summer after winning the draft lottery and selecting Jack Hughes with the first overall pick. Along with Hughes and Subban, Wayne Simmonds was added up front on a one-year deal with the hope that he can bounce back offensively, and Nikita Gusev, the talented KHL scorer, was acquired and signed from the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Summer of Ray has put the Devils in “sleeper team” status and it’s not just media and fans thinking that. A number of NHLers at the Player Media Tour last week in Chicago pegged New Jersey as a team that can surprise in 2019-20.
Subban has one question for those players.
“I’d ask those same players why do you pick us as a sleeper?,” he told NBC Sports. “I think that players are just making something aware that they already know what’s coming, you know? That’s not a shocker to me. You can call us a sleeper, you can call us a contender, you can call us whatever you want. But I can tell you one thing, we’re a team that competes, I know that.
“Playing in the East for a couple of years, watching this team, New Jersey’s always been a team, no matter where they are in the standings, whether top or bottom, you knew that you were going to have a frustrating game against them. You knew that they were going to compete on everything, you knew you were going to have to work to earn those two points and I don’t think that’s changing any time soon.”
After beginning his NHL career in Montreal and playing in heated rivalry games against the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, Subban is eager to enter similar environments when the Devils play their Metropolitan Division enemies.
“Playing in the [Western Conference] was great, playing in Nashville was awesome. What was the most exciting thing about Nashville was when I went there people asked, “How is he going to deal with the fact that he’s not playing in front of the Montreal Canadiens fans?” I’ll tell you, those Nashville fans delivered a lot of support.
“I would expect the same in New Jersey and I would expect the same now that I’m in these [Eastern Conference] rivalries. That’s energy that I feed off of. I think I’m going to really enjoy it.”
The Devils have missed the playoffs in six out of the last seven seasons. That followed a 14-season run where they missed only once and reached the Stanley Cup Final three times, winning twice. Shero is following his plan to bring those winning days back, and Subban is excited for what success can do for the franchise.
“To think of being in that type of market and being the only sports team [bearing New Jersey’s name], that’s pretty amazing, actually,” Subban said. “That’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for the team to really take over the town and own it.”
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.