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Getting to know Montreal Canadiens 130th overall pick Jared Davidson

Davidson was all offence all the time this season, but there’s a lot more to his story.

Everett Silvertips v Seattle Thunderbirds Photo by Christopher Mast/Getty Images

Jared Davidson played his first games in the Western Hockey League in the 2018-19 season. having gone unselected in the Bantam draft a year earlier. He was your average forward with decent defensive prowess but not much offence. That profile fit him in his first NHL draft-eligible season the next year, and wasn’t enough to put him on an NHL team’s radar.

A season ago, he focused more on rounding out the offensive side of his game while gradually getting more comfortable in the league, and earning more time. Despite the campaign getting off to a late start due to the pandemic, he matched his output from the previous year in about one-third of the games. The sample size was too small for a player who had two years of precedent as a forward with little offence. This was obviously just an outlier performance, and not worth any heed from NHL scouts.

Entering his final year of draft eligibility, Davidson had to prove that his near point-per-game performance the previous season was no fluke. His response was to abandon defensive play altogether and go all-in on offence. The result was 42 goals, double what he’d had in his first three seasons combined, leading his team and ranking eighth in the WHL.

That did the trick.

Birthplace: Edmonton, Alberta
Date of birth: July 7, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Centre
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 181 lbs.
Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

The Montreal Canadiens selected him with the first pick of the fifth round believing they found a late-bloomer, and it’s quite possible they did. You can’t call 42 goals — and 13 more in the post-season — a fluke, especially with the shot Davidson possesses.

Wherever it came from, his release the past two years was incredibly powerful, a lightning-quick whip action that had the puck in the net a microsecond after leaving his stick. Goalies in the WHL had little chance of stopping the shots — and most of them didn’t. He had shown glimpses of shooting ability in his first few years, but never anything like this.

Elite Prospects

It appears that part of his adjustment was more aggressive play in the neutral zone to create turnovers. That meant more chances to show off his shot when his interventions worrked, more space to get a shot off versus recovering defenders, but less chance that he was going to be in a defensive position if his attempt failed. The results look quite wild in Mitch Brown’s tracked data for this season, with a defence score in the single digits.

However, if you scroll through the gallery of his stats over the past four seasons, you’ll find that this was a conscious shift in his style of play, moving from a defence-first player to an offence-only one.

That means that the defensive capabilities are still present. He didn’t suddenly forget how to play the game without the puck, it was just a decision — his or his coach’s — to alter the way he played. He now has experience playing two vastly different styles, and that’s something few prospects can say they have. He may be an over-ager perceived as a late-bloomer, but in some regards he’s a step ahead of the majority of players his age.

One thing that has remained constant throughout the process is his status as a hard worker. That helps him create takeaways, but does explain the high penalty-minute totals he’s accumulated in his WHL career, being a bit too aggressive at times. Once the Thunderbirds made the playoffs, that mindset also shifted completely. He had just 10 penalty minutes through 25 games, making sure he stayed on the ice rather than forcing his team to play short-handed. It’s just another case of how adaptable he can be when the situation calls for it.

Now that he has been drafted, he doesn’t have to prove that he’s worthy of an NHL team’s attention. He has the Canadiens watching him closely, and they clearly like what they see. Now it’s a matter of getting him to find the balance in his game between the defensive skill he had in previous years and the incredible offensive showing the past two seasons. They’ll have to be careful with the tweaks because you don’t want to take too much away from the offensive side with that exceptional shot, but you do want to get him playing a quality all-around game.

With all the experience he has and the lessons he’s learned through four years of WHL experience, the adjustment should be relatively easy for him. It’s not a matter of trying to teach a player whose coasted through the Junior ranks on offence alone how to play defence, nor do you have to train a responsible player to take a few risks in the opponent’s zone. That makes Davidson one of the most intriguing prospects from the Canadiens’ 2022 class, one who has grown a lot in recent years and is guaranteed to progress even further just by combining abilities he’s already shown.