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P.K. Subban has helped NHL players break free of the game’s restraints

P.K. Subban has helped NHL players break free of the game’s restraints
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There might not be a bigger personality in hockey than P.K. Subban. From the moment he joined the Montreal Canadiens in 2010, Subban was as dynamic, engaging and entertaining off the ice as much as he was on.

It really wasn’t very “hockey,” a player talking about more than getting pucks deep and how it takes 20 guys to win. And some pointed to that big personality as one of the reasons the Canadiens traded Subban, a Norris Trophy winner, to Nashville in 2016.

Nashville Predators defender P.K. Subban stars in The PK Project, coming soon on NBC Sports.com. #NBCSports #NHL #PKSubban

Maybe the old guard of hockey didn’t like the attention Subban drew. But fans ate it up. He is still a fan favourite.

Now 29, Subban is seeing younger players following in his footsteps: They wear louder suits, joke a bit more, celebrate a goal because, well, it’s hard to score in the NHL and it’s fun when you do.

“It’s probably that the league is just younger,” the Predators defenceman said Monday. “When I came into the league, there probably weren’t as many young players. It was still like more veteran players. I played with Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Roman Hamrlik, Hal Gill, Mike Cammalleri, guys that had played in the league 10, 11, 12 years at the time.

“It’s just different. Now it’s younger. With the way pop culture is today, it crosses over a lot into sports. When young players come into the league, they see how pop culture has affected the other sports, like the NBA and the NFL. They come in with more of an open mind.”

Subban pointed to Leafs centre Auston Matthews as another growing personality. A few of his goal celebrations have drawn some ire from older players, but are really all in fun. Matthews wasn’t afraid to go on the let-loose podcast “Spittin’ Chiclets,” hosted by former NHL bad boy Paul Bissonnette. And he showed off his wardrobe in Sharp Magazine while also doing a spread GQ.

“The NHL now is so diverse,” Subban said. “Auston Matthews from Arizona. The NHL hasn’t seen that. To have players like that come in can change things a little bit because he’s a player that has influence, and he’s got personality.”

Subban has an ally in San Jose’s Evander Kane when it comes to encouraging others to show personality.

“Kids don’t become fans of teams,” Kane told the Star last fall. “They become fans of players that they follow — Odell Beckham Jr. in the NFL. Kids are getting the same hair cut, not because they’re New York Giants fans but because they like Odell.

Nashville might be just the city for outgoing defenceman P.K. Subban.  (Nashville Predators)

“People tune in pre-game just to see what (NBA star) Russell Westbrook is going to walk into the arena looking like. He’s not going to wear a suit. He’s going to be wearing something crazy. It’s only going to help integrate fashion companies into the game. It will grow awareness, popularity, it will be good for the league, it will be good for the players.

“It’s an entertainment business. There are a lot of different ways to showcase personality. Look at a guy like Brent Burns. You can see his personality through what he wears to the rink. You can see a tuxedo on with camouflage backpack and a tuque. Nobody else in the league does that. But that’s his personality.”

As for Subban, he’s spreading his wings to television. He has appeared on Just for Laughs and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Now he’s getting his own show that will debut at the end of the month on NBCsports.com and YouTube.

NBC hailed it as “a first-of-its-kind content partnership” to produce a television special for the all-star weekend as well as an original digital series. The special will feature several vignettes, with Subban interviewing some NHL stars and entertainers. The series will encompass his hockey career, his fashion choices and his daily life in the Music City.

“P.K. is more than a hockey player, he’s a cultural explorer whose interests cross over into business, entertainment, and philanthropy,” said Sam Flood, executive producer with NBC Sports.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Subban said. “To work with NBC Sports, to represent the Preds, to be able to expose some of the great stuff about the city of Nashville. Should be exciting.”

Predators coach Peter Laviolette said the team didn’t have an issue with Subban spreading his wings.

“Players, when they get away from the rink, their time is their own time,” Laviolette said. “He’s not the first person to do something like this. As long as the focus stays at the rink, that’s what we worry about.

Subban said getting away from the game to do special projects is probably a healthy choice.

“Sometimes I think getting your mind off the game and doing other things can make you even better. Everybody’s different. You have to find out what works for you. What works for me might not work for the next guy. You have to work within yourself and know what’s going to provide you with the amount of energy you need to do your job.”
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