The signing of John Tavares on July 1 rightly stole the headlines, but the acquisition of defenseman Jordan Subban was a quietly interesting addition by new General Manager Kyle Dubas.

Signed to a one-year, two-way contract, Subban — yet to receive an NHL callup in his professional career — is expected to play exclusively for the Toronto Marlies in 2018-19 after a ’17-18 campaign that was certainly the toughest of his pro career to date.

In a year that included injury trouble and a trade — the Canucks traded their 115th overall pick in 2013 to the Kings in exchange for Nic Dowd last December — the 23-year-old’s production declined and his penalty minutes increased exponentially.

After two consecutive years of 36 points, including 16 goals through 2016-17, the Toronto native mustered a mere 13 points (4-9-13) in 56 outings split between the Utica Comets (16 games) and Ontario Reign (36 games), respectively. Perhaps frustration — he was playing a reduced role with both teams — and the sense of needing to make up for lost time played their part, leading to the number of penalty minutes accrued, including 16 minor infractions and four fights.

Allowed to walk free as a free agent in July, Subban’s offensive talents convinced Kyle Dubas that he was a reclamation project worth taking a low risk, calculated gamble on with the idea that the organization’s coaching and development staffs should be able to help steer the Toronto native back on track.

The right-handed blue-liner possesses excellent shooting ability and an unerring knack for getting the majority of his shot attempts through traffic, whether it’s an accurate wrist shot that often confounds goaltenders with power and/or placement, or a booming slap shot that has been used to good effect on the power play at the AHL level.

His puck-moving ability is above average, although he’s more likely to lead a rush than create an opportunity through a defence-splitting pass. Swift on his skates, he should be well suited to Toronto’s free-flowing system that allows defensemen to be aggressive about leading the rush and pinching into the play when appropriate.

Subban’s proficiency at quarterbacking the power play is certainly a huge asset in his game and he’ll undoubtedly be given the opportunity to prove his worth in that role. However, with the power play accounting for almost 46% of his career scoring at the AHL level, the key to Subban’s future is whether he can evolve into a more effective player at both ends of the ice at even strength. After recording 15 primary points at ES during his rookie year, the defenseman has only added 18 to that total in the two campaigns since and owned a combined Goal For Percentage of 39.47% at 5v5 last season.

The most pressing issue heading into 2018-19 is the need for huge improvement on the defensive side of his game. Subban’s gap control and positioning both require work, as does his decision making inside his own zone as well as his ability to win battles for possession along the walls, which has always been a question mark due to his 5’8 stature.

Whether or not he’s capable of improvement in those facets of his game will determine his immediate and long-term future in the Toronto organization. He’ll no doubt be a project for recently-promoted development coach Stephane Robidas, formerly an undersized defenseman himself whose competitiveness and defensive reliability earned him a long, successful career in the NHL.

Subban’s thoughts on joining the Leafs lead off today’s links.

Leafs Links

J. Subban on chance to play for Leafs: ‘Always wanted to play for this team’ (TSN)
Jordan Subban met with the media to discuss joining the Leafs organization and playing at home.

On choosing to sign in Toronto:

My mom was a huge Leafs fan growing up. My dad was a Habs fan. My mom was pretty excited – probably the most excited, other than me.

I wanted to be here. I’ve always wanted to play for this team. Having the opportunity to play in front of friends and family and play for this organization… it’s a grade-A organization. I knew that opportunity probably wouldn’t come again, and I wanted to take advantage of it.

On the draw of the Marlies winning the Calder Cup:

That’s huge. Wherever you end up – Leafs, Marlies – you expect to win. The Marlies have a track record of it. Everyone knows the Leafs are on the rise. Having the opportunity to play at home, and win, was huge for me.

On working with Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill:

Usually once a week I skate with Barb, and then another day I’d go over to MasterCard and skate with those guys.

She’s great at what she does. I only get out with her once a week for about 45 minutes or so, and for me, I love working with her and trying to take advantage of my time with her. She’s great at what she does.

Which Leafs to watch at the Rookie Showcase (Toronto Sun)
It’ll be a first look at Rasmus Sandin in a Leafs jersey next weekend at the rookie tourney.

Leafs young core should take step forward defensively (Sportsnet)
Luke Fox thinks the Maple Leafs should take a step forward defensively as their young core matures.

Big year for Bracco could start with Leafs rookie team (Toronto Sun)
“I spent my whole summer here, skating and working out and you hope the whole thing translates to on-ice performance,” said Bracco.

Nielsen hopes path converges with Dermott on Leafs (Toronto Sun)
“My defensive game,” he sighed. “It’s been the same every year when I come in. I won’t say it’s my weakness, but it’s something I have to improve on. I want to show that I’ve made strides.”