Josh Brook was the man who broke the news to Jake Evans: he wasn’t going to have his Thursday off.
“I was sleeping,” Evans said, following a 3-2 Habs victory over the Ducks at the Bell Centre. “He woke me up and said to call Coach [Joël Bouchard] in Laval. I was not expecting this at all. Right away, I was in shock. I was so excited.”
What was supposed to be a day off for Laval Rocket players turned into the first real day of Evans’s National Hockey League career.
The Rocket had won 5-4 in overtime the night prior against the Utica Comets, a game in which Evans had scored twice. The next morning, Evans and Rocket captain Xavier Ouellet were both called up to the Canadiens hours before their game against the Ducks.
Ouellet sat as a healthy scratch, while Evans played right wing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and Max Domi on the third line.
“That was pretty cool,” Evans said. “I had no idea until right before warmups who I was playing with or where I was playing.”
“Jake [getting] to play his first game was awesome to see,” teammate Nick Suzuki said. “He did really well.”
Evans has now participated in six periods of hockey between Wednesday and Thursday night. Both games featured him playing out of position. He was the top-line right-winger alongside Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Charles Hudon in Laval’s win on Wednesday, having practised with them earlier in the week.
He didn’t have nearly as much time to get acclimatized to his NHL surroundings, but his inclusion on the third line very nearly paid dividends for coach Claude Julien and the Canadiens, as he almost scored on his first NHL shift.
“We were all cheering for him to score on that first shift,” Julien said post-game. “He played with speed. I forgot he plays, mostly, centre. He hasn’t played a ton on the wing. Along the wall he did a good job. I liked a lot about him.”
Evans’s breakaway ended up being his best chance of the night, but he still found ways to make his presence felt on the scoresheet. He had two blocked shots and two hits on his stat line, so he can always say he wasn’t a passenger during the game.
Why did Evans get to play with Domi and Kovalchuk? Julien didn’t want to break up the fourth-line chemistry between Nate Thompson and Dale Weise.
“[Weise] and Thompson have been good together,” Julien said. “Weise being a right-winger. We know Jake’s got some skill. Throwing him on that line, I had no issues there. Had he struggled, I would’ve made the adjustment. But he didn’t, so I was able to keep him there for the whole game.”
It is early, but Evans has already drawn positive reviews for his play in his short time as a Hab. If that scoring chance was any indication, maybe he’ll get another crack at scoring his first NHL goal sooner than later.
“I was just trying to get some speed going,” Evans said. “Max made a good little tip there. I wish I had scored, obviously, but I was happy to get a Grade-A chance.”