Blackhawks goalie Malcolm Subban readying for ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ with Corey Crawford absent

While the Hawks remain mum about Crawford’s whereabouts, Subban — basically a toss-in addition at the trade deadline — is suddenly a crucial part of the team’s playoff hopes.

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Malcolm Subban, despite having played just 71 seconds of hockey with the Blackhawks, could be the team’s best bet to replace Corey Crawford.

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The Blackhawks probably know where Corey Crawford is, what he’s dealing with and if they’ll have him back by Aug. 1.

But they aren’t saying.

That means Malcolm Subban is, for now, the leading candidate to start in goal against the Oilers.

Subban was one of the first six players to attend the Hawks’ first informal Phase 2 workouts at Fifth Third Arena on June 10, indicating he might’ve known for a while about the huge opportunity ahead of him. In fact, he has participated in every workout and practice that he possibly could’ve since hockey returned from its coronavirus shutdown.

When asked Wednesday when he found out about Crawford’s mysterious situation, however, Subban awkwardly bumbled through his response, clearly unsure how much to disclose.

“Kind of like the first day . . . when I . . . when we didn’t see him here, obviously,” Subban said. “So I don’t really know too much about what’s going on; it’s kind of just a day-by-day thing. But, yeah, that’s pretty much all I know.”

The NHL has made it clear with its universal ‘‘unfit to play’’ designation that it wants nothing disclosed. It’s a move designed to protect players’ privacy in case they’ve caught COVID-19, even though it conversely leads to rampant speculation that all ‘‘unfit’’ players indeed have contracted COVID-19.

So, internally, it’s likely the coaching staff and players have at least some general idea of whether to plan for Crawford’s eventual return.

That makes it interesting that Subban was far more decisive about one of his other comments: “It could end up being the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Without a doubt, this is a huge chance for Subban, 26, to resurrect his career. He was highly touted as the Bruins’ first-round pick in 2012 — brother P.K.’s superstardom only slightly contributing to that status — and had a solid 2017-18 NHL debut season with the expansion Golden Knights, going 13-4-2 with a .910 save percentage.

The last two years have seen a major decline in his play, though. He dropped to 8-10-2 with a .902 save percentage in 2018-19, then improved his record to 9-7-3 but saw his save percentage fall to an ugly .890 this season.

When the Knights acquired Robin Lehner at the deadline, Subban was basically a throw-in in the package headed back to the Hawks. He played only 71 seconds in the eight games between the deadline and the coronavirus shutdown, and if he leaves as a free agent this fall, he could end up having the shortest Hawks stint ever (looking strictly at the regular season).

But the man with the shortest Hawks career is now, incredibly, the man they might have to count on to backstop their playoff run.

Subban is hoping his maximum practice time this summer will help him capitalize on the chance.

“We were skating for three or four weeks, and I thought I was back on the little small things,” he said. “And then I got out with [goalie coach Jimmy Waite] for the first time and realized I still had a lot of stuff to work on. But just getting out there and trying to correct those little habits that formed and also getting back into game shape, every skate will help.”

Subban will have to fend off Collin Delia, who has more familiarity with the organization and excelled in the latter half of the AHL season.

Given Subban’s NHL experience and contract status, though, it’s safe to say he’s the favorite for now.

Unless, of course, Crawford suddenly appears.

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