When people discuss prospects in the Canadiens organization and who can make an impact down the road, it’s easy to mention Mikhail Sergachev, Charles Hudon, or Nikita Scherbak. For good reason of course: they’re first round picks, or currently dominating the AHL after a standout CHL career.
However, it’s easy to see players like St. John’s IceCaps winger Jacob de la Rose fall by the wayside. After all, he isn’t leading his team in scoring, nor was he a top-10 pick. That being said, he still represents a potentially important cog in the lineup for Montreal in the coming years.
Not every player drafted is going to turn into a superstar 30-goal scorer like Max Pacioretty or Alex Galchenyuk, and that’s okay, because no team in the NHL is made up of entirely elite goal scorers. You have to bolster your roster with support players. Players like Paul Byron and Torrey Mitchell aren’t going to set the scoresheet on fire, but can be significant role players for a coach.
Right now, Jacob de la Rose looks to be the perfect fit for that sort of role under Claude Julien. When Michel Therrien led the charge, de la Rose never really had a chance at the NHL level. Being buried in defensive zone starts, with an extremely flawed breakout system, isn’t any way for a player to develop.
The biggest issue with his NHL call-ups, is they always coincide with a short run of strong play in the AHL. Normally this isn’t unusual — unless your name is Charles Hudon or Bud Holloway -- but for de la Rose, it ruins the flow of his play and sets him back to square one. He isn’t meant to be an offensive juggernaut, but when he heats up, his team becomes instantly better.
To date, this has been the best professional season of the Swede’s young career. With nine goals and 14 assists this season, he’s finding a new gear on the offensive side of the puck.
He’s also the driving force down the middle for the IceCaps this year, currently anchoring the second line between Stefan Matteau and Daniel Carr. In addition, with Michael McCarron called up to the Canadiens, de la Rose is the teams best defensive option as well. Logging major penalty kill minutes on a team that is second in the league for penalty minutes is no small feat, and as of late, de la Rose is a major difference maker in shutting down opposing power plays.
Take for example, the above goal against the Syracuse Crunch. De la Rose uses his high end speed and big frame to box out a defender on the puck. Then he comes in alone on the goalie, shows off his slick hands, and scores a gorgeous shorthanded goal.
At even strength he’s starting to make himself at home around the net. Allowing him to cash in on loose pucks and capitalize on poor defensive plays by his opponents. He has an extremely underrated wrist shot and when he uses it, more often than not, he’s finding twine.
When he was red hot last season in St. John’s, he was effectively using that same shot to terrorize AHL goalies. At the NHL level, however, he hasn’t had much of a chance to showcase it due to his assignments. His resurgence in the offensive zone, coupled with his strong defensive acumen, makes him a versatile threat at the AHL level.
Watching his play this year with the IceCaps, it’s clear that fans may be writing off de la Rose far too early in to his career. It’s unfair to judge his play under an underperforming coach in a terrible system for players like him. It’s entirely possible, if given the chance under coach Julien, he could see growth in his game at the NHL level in upcoming seasons.
This isn’t to say that he will develop into the mythical top six forward that the Canadiens desperately need (that falls to his fellow IceCap Hudon right now), but he has the ability to become a utility player in the Canadiens bottom six for years to come.
Torrey Mitchell isn’t getting younger, and the likes of Steve Ott and Andreas Martinsen are not long term solutions. Adding de la Rose into the mix, along with McCarron, creates a youthful pair for the Habs, and can mix in some goal scoring depth that can help bolster a long Stanley Cup run.
Don’t quit on a 21-year-old prospect just because of his previous struggles. Because there’s potentially a lot more to his game than what we’ve already seen.