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2015-16 Montreal Canadiens Season Preview: Jacob de la Rose

Asked to play big defensive minutes at 19 years of age, Jacob de la Rose has impressed. But does he have what it takes to crack the Habs crowded 2015-16 roster?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Jacob de la Rose's mid-season debut with the Habs was something of a baptism by fire, which the 19-year-old 2013 second-round pick passed, surprisingly unscathed.

Spending most of his time on — and under — the wing of Lars Eller, de la Rose proved his worth in a tough position that had seen seasoned NHLer Rene Bourque flounder at the beginning of the season. In a surprisingly short time, he earned the respect of his teammates and the trust of his coach, thanks to his defensive prowess, poise, and maturity.

However, having proven that he has what it takes to play in the NHL might not be enough for de la Rose to secure a spot on the Habs' crowded roster.

2014-15 Review

De la rose spent the first half of the season in Hamilton playing a very similar role to his eventual linemate Lars Eller, complete with big defensive minutes and a lack of offensive output. He totalled six goals and five assists over 37 AHL games, and spent a good deal more time on the penalty kill than on the power play. However, while it would have been nice to see more points from such a strong two-way player, de la Rose hasn't exactly shown himself to be an offensive powerhouse. Thus, his low scoring was perhaps to be expected, especially combined with his role on the team.

During the winter, de la Rose also captained Team Sweden at the World Junior Hockey Championship, where he registered two goals and two assists in seven games. Though Sweden did not medal, de la Rose's offensive contribution, together with his usual strong defensive play, led to his being named one of Sweden's top three players of the tournament.

In the ten games he played in Hamilton after the conclusion of the World Juniors, he found himself in a more offensive role, collecting six of his eleven points while playing with some of Hamilton's most prolific goal scorers, and earning himself a promotion to the Canadiens.

There was nothing gradual about his transition to the NHL. He played his first game in February against the Habs' personal kryptonite; the basement dwelling Buffalo Sabres. His first NHL experience came on a line with Eller and Jiri Sekac, and it wasn't exactly pretty, as the line saw all three of the game's goals scored against it.

But Eller and de la Rose rapidly found their footing, and went on to become a reliable defensive pair with whichever right-winger Therrien saw fit to give them. Brandon Prust, Devante Smith-PellyDale Weise, and P.A. Parenteau (among others) all saw ice time with the duo, with de la Rose finding the scoresheet twice with Parenteau and three times with Prust (including one short-handed goal that put him on a very short list of Canadiens with man-disadvantage tallies). Eller and de la Rose were also, unsurprisingly, an excellent team on the penalty kill, as well as in 4-on-4 situations, and will potentially have the opportunity to continue to be so for a long time to come.

de la Rose 10-game CF% condensed
2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with de la Rose on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On Ice. Charts created by Spencer Mann.

When looking at de la Rose's stats, it's important to remember that 33 games is a very small sample size. That being said, it is not altogether surprising that his possession stats weren't particularly brilliant, given that he was playing with Eller and was absolutely buried in the defensive zone against top players.

2015-16 Preview

De la Rose 2015-16 Marcel projection

2015-16 Marcel statistical projection courtesy of Domenic Galamini | Calculation procedure

Because de la Rose is not yet waiver eligible, and because there are four other players fighting for the same spots who are, it's entirely possible that de la Rose starts the season in St. John's, despite the fact that he's proven that he has what it takes to play in the NHL. If that is the case, it is likely that he will return to his duties as shut-down centre for the IceCaps.

Such a move might not actually be a bad thing. Given his youth, and his respectable numbers in Sweden against his peers, it is also entirely possible that as he gets older and more comfortable in the AHL, we will see him score more goals. If this is the case, it would make him an even more valuable player to the Habs in the long run, especially since he can play both left wing and centre.

De la Rose save
Photo credit: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

As of now, should de la Rose make the NHL, with Eller racking up preseason points on Alex Galchenyuk's wing, he could find himself in quite a number of different situations. However, if the current lines from camp are any indication, he might find himself the defensively-responsible party on a line with David Desharnais and Dale Weise. If that's the case, it's conceivable that he will have the opportunity to play a more offensive role, as that line is highly unlikely to see much in the way of defensive zone starts. Given de la Rose's excellent defensive play, it is equally plausible that Therrien puts him on Torrey Mitchell's wing, and relies on that line to take on many of the assignments that would otherwise have fallen to Eller.

Regardless of where he ends up, given his age, 2015-16 should be a year of further improvement in all areas. This is an exciting prospect for a player already as solid as de la Rose.