Just two short years ago, the Montreal Canadiens used the fourth last pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft to select Jake Evans. He was coming off an exceptional year in the OJHL (Jr. A) with a commitment to the University of Notre Dame, a top flight school with an excellent hockey program.
Evans' two-way game was weak, and his lack of consistency was frustrating. The average-sized forward made little impact without the puck, while often shying away from contact. It was his combination of playmaking and hockey sense that made him so successful at the OJHL level.
Last year, Evans started off his NCAA career with a solid first half, which saw him hover around fifth in scoring for Notre Dame. However, he trailed off, and plummeted all the way down to 10th by year's end. He was thrust into a third line role, seeing limited minutes, mostly the latter half of the third period, and was stapled to the bench during crucial situations.
A year later, and Evans is not only making a case for himself as one of the most improved prospects for the Habs, and really in the entire NCAA.
The centre-turned-winger was moved back to the middle of the ice, where he has exploded for 23 points in 23 games this year, good enough for 32nd in the NCAA (fourth among sophomores) and one back of the team lead. His 19 assists place him seventh in the NCAA in assists, while 12 primary assists land him 10th, and only three back of the lead. Meanwhile, he leads the 13th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in assists (19), faceoff percentage (57.4%), and powerplay points (eight).
Perhaps making his production even more impressive has been that for a sizable chunk of the season, he racked up points playing with two freshmen; Andrew Oglevie and Dylan Malmquist. Oglevie and Malmquist have combined for just 22 points this year, although their drop in production coincides with Evans being moved to a line with Anders Bjork, a Boston Bruins draft pick. Bjork's intense style has complimented Evans' more methodical approach. Since then, Bjork and Evans have jockeyed for first in Notre Dame scoring.
Evans hasn't just improved, he has evolved. His defensive game has gone from a weakness to a strength, and the Notre Dame coaching staff recognizes it, as he is often tasked with shutting down the opposition's best. Over the course of the season, he has become a regular on the penalty kill. In late game scenarios, he is not only out there, but he takes the important faceoff. The once physically shy player now plays physical, and does his best offensive work in traffic and around the net.
These improvements have combined with Evans' excellent hockey sense and playmaking, accelerating his development. Take a look at some of his best assists from this season:
The video showcases the diversity of Evans' playmaking ability, including his passing ability off the rush and down low, as well as directly from a faceoff (which has resulted in a goal at least twice this year). He has a knack for drawing defenders towards him, only to fire a pass to an open man. Additionally, he has the rare ability to pass through traffic with both the forehand and backhand. In fact, his ability to set up plays with the backhand is quite impressive.
For Evans, the next step will be improving his shooting. With just 33 shots on goal this season (1.43/game) and a mere one even-strength goal, Evans simply is not a scoring threat around the goal. Not only is his shot fairly weak, he struggles to get it on goal. Around the net, sneaking in for a backdoor tap-in or battling for a loose puck is how Evans tends to score most of his goals. However, too often is he on the perimeter.
There isn't much flash in Evans' game, but there certainly is a lot to like. An excellent playmaker, he is now a more well-rounded player. While he most likely remains a four-year NCAA project, his upwards development curve is highly encouraging.
Tim Bozon rekindling scoring touch in ECHL
With just one assist in 10 AHL games and six points in 10 ECHL games, Tim Bozon doesn't appear to be on the right track to begin his professional career.
However, recent weeks have seen a dramatic change in Bozon's play. He received a 10-game AHL stint beginning late in November and ending December. He experienced a lengthy succession of scratches, before finally being sent down to the Brampton Beast.
Since being reassigned, he has scored his first two professional goals, while adding three assists in six games of action. He has been heavily utilized with the Beast, which shouldn't come as a surprise considering his junior hockey pedigree, and the ECHL's limit of just three forward lines.
With the St. John's IceCaps featuring scoring depth from top to bottom of the lineup, Bozon might not see a lengthy AHL stint again for the rest of the season. Given his usage with Brampton (First PP unit, used in late-game situations), Bozon will have the opportunity to put together a solid second half.