By RON FANFAIR
The intensity and maturity displayed by Montreal Canadiens young defenseman Pernell Karl (P.K.) Subban in the just concluded National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs did not surprise Eustace King, the league’s only Black certified agent.
Summoned last April 26 from the American Hockey League (AHL) Hamilton Bulldogs for the Canadiens must-win Game Six on home ice against the Washington Capitals, Subban helped spark his team to victory in just his third NHL game and in the series clincher two nights later, registering nearly 21 minutes in the contests.
The Toronto-born two-time world juniors gold medalist also played major minutes in his team’s series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins and in the Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia Flyers. In Game three against the Flyers, he became just the third rookie defenseman in Canadiens’ history to post three assists in a game.
“P.K. has shown Montreal that not only can he play at the NHL level, but he can excel,” said King who served in several leading administrative capacities in the NHL office for more than a decade before co-founding O2K where he oversees all aspects of the Los Angeles-based organization’s business, contract negotiation, sports marketing, athletic training and health and wealth management.
“The playoffs are a major stage for teams and individual players to showcase their talent and he did not let anyone down. P.K. really showed that he could play extremely well defensively and he was always a threat offensively. On the power play, he demonstrated that he has the skill and ability to do so many things that guys that have been in the league for 10 years are doing. He took a major step forward in his development.”
King expects Subban will be an integral part of the Canadiens in the 2010-2011 season.
“It’s his job to lose,” said King. “Players are on an emotional high when they are called up. Proving they can be consistent over a long period is what NHL teams are looking for. I don’t really believe that will be an issue for P.K. because he plays at a high level every shift every time he’s on the ice.
“He, like the other Black players in the league, are not just average. They are high-end players on their team. I think it has to do with their upbringing. Blacks and other minorities in the league come from environments where family core values are strong and the players are driven to succeed.”
O2K represents Scarborough-born right wingers Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart who play for the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche, respectively. Simmonds recorded 40 points in 78 games and Stewart posted 64 points in 77 games last season.
King is looking forward to next week’s entry draft in Los Angeles and the prospect of one of his players – Emerson Etem – being a high first round pick. The right winger was raised in Long Beach, California which is in close proximity to the Staple Centre where the draft takes place on June 25 and 26.
“Emerson is projected to go eighth overall,” said King who was born in the United States to Jamaican immigrant parents. “He could go from as high as fourth to 20th in my mind.”
King compares Etem, whose mother Patricia was a member of the United States 1980 and 1984 Olympic rowing teams, with Dallas Stars centre Mike Modano, who is noted for his speed and slap shot.
“Emerson’s lightning foot speed and hard and accurate shot are his strengths,” King pointed out. “Defensemen also have a hard time containing him on the rush and down low because he’s so strong.”
Etem works out in the off-season with Los Angeles-based physical fitness trainer T.R. Goodman who is credited with 48-year-old Chris Chelios’ longevity. The defenseman played seven games last season with the Atlanta Thrashers and was the oldest active player in the American Hockey League while representing the Chicago Wolves.
Two other Black players in King’s stable are expected to be drafted next week.
Scarborough-born left winger Devante Smith-Pelly of Mississauga’s St. Michael’s Majors is a strong power forward with good hands while defenseman Austin Levi skates and moves the puck well.
King projects Smith-Pelly to be a late first round pick and Levi to go between the third and fifth rounds.