Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs' prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL), collegiate (USHL, NCAA), and professional (ECHL) level.
NCAA hockey started last Friday, and Jake Evans, the Montreal Canadiens’ seventh-round pick in 2014, had an incredible start to the season with five points (2 goals, 3 assists) over a two-game weekend. Catching the Torch will follow him closely as he starts his senior year with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Jake Evans #18, C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Evans has had a steady progression from year to year playing in the NCAA, taking on more responsibilities and minutes as he gained experience. He has improved as a goal-scorer, and become a true two-way centre. Now in his last season with Notre Dame, he's relied upon in every facet of the game, playing multiple shifts on the penalty kill while also being an important offensive threat.
Evans is not an explosive skater and won't impress you very often with his stick-handling abilities. However, he stands out from other prospects due to his talent as a playmaker, consistently finding teammates in the slot for great scoring chances.
His assist on Sunday illustrates his game sense perfectly. He intercepts the puck, drives the net, and freezes the defender by faking a move inside only to fully extend his stick the other way, out of reach of the now-immobile defenceman. He then skates around, glancing for options, and through at least two opposing players, he connects with Andrew Oglevie on a perfect pass to the front of the net.
The game plan is not complicated if you're on a team with Evans: give him a bit of space, skate into a high-danger area, and he will find you with a pass a few times during the game. As long as your stick is not tied up, you have a good chance to be able to one-time the puck in. Evans’ playmaking ability should net Oglevie a lot of goals during the season this way.
As he will look to join the pro ranks next season, it remains to be seen how Evans can translate this skill to the next level. He doesn't need a lot of time with the puck to make use of his great vision of the ice, but his puck-handling ability and edgework will probably need to improve before he can replicate the things he does in the NCAA against professionals.
That being said, Evans is not a one-dimensional play. He has improved his shot and is now willing to utilize it. Something that was more noticeable this weekend, but has been part of his playstyle for a while, is that he likes to get the puck to his defencemen, positioning himself to tip the resulting shot from the blue line. He has good hand-eye coordination that should net him more than a few points utilizing this strategy.
His goal on Friday was a perfect example of this, redirecting a puck mid-air as it was on a trajectory over the net.
Notre Dame faces Denver in back-to-back matches this weekend. As they are ranked the number-one NCAA Hockey team in the country, it should be an interesting test for Evans and the Fighting Irish; a much harder matchup than Alabama-Hunstville.
If the 21-year-old can build on his performance from his first two games, the team captain could prove right out of the gate that the Irish are in good hands, even with the departure Anders Bjork, their leading scorer from last year.
Jarret Tyszka #5, LD, Seattle Thunderbirds
I did not manage to watch Tyszka play last season. His first six games of this year were my introduction to the Habs’ fifth-round pick of 2017. He has some tools that could make him an NHL defencemen one day, but unless he shows very rapid growth, he remains a long-term project.
It's clear what the Canadiens scouts saw in him: he's a good skater with a long stride who doesn't hesitate to support the attack. He's also 6'3” and has the potential to be a solid presence along the boards. Mobility and size seemed to be the combo Montreal's staff were looking for at the draft, and Tyszka possesses both of those elements.
He attempts to skate the puck up a lot. Maybe a bit too much, as he often fails to get it past the offensive blue line while having better options available to him. He's also seen going deep in the offensive zone, joining his forwards on the rush to attack with numbers.
Simply put, he's all over the ice. Sometimes it's good — he managed six points in his last four games — but it also places a team that is already struggling with positioning in difficult situations.
Tyszka needs to work on a number of facets of his defensive play. He's either caught puck-watching and loses his coverage, or only focuses on his man and loses track of the play. That results in him reacting late to a lot of the opposition's moves in his zone.
He could also improve his stick work, often missing on poke checks or doing wide swinging motions to take away the puck, instead of straight ahead movements that are a lot more effective. A fencing-like gesture instead of a sweeping arc allows you to have your stick in front of you at all time, instead of having to bring it all the way back at the end of each swing and leaving space for opposing forwards to dangle through.
Here are some clips from Cale Fleury's game this season where he executes a couple of effective poke checks. He's not focused on the movement of the puck as much as the attacker's body, and, as a result, he reads the play correctly.
Right now, Tyszka's team has had a lot of breakdowns and trouble getting the puck out of the zone. The young defenceman hasn't been more efficient than the rest of his teammates in those regards either. This, added to a few bad line changes, led to a horrible 10-5 defeat against Portland on Friday, with Tyszka finishing the night -4 despite picking up an assist.
The Habs prospect will improve in his reads as the season goes on, and as he earns more experience it should reflect on every facet of his game including his play with the puck.
Being directly responsible for two of the Thunderbirds’ goals in their bounce-back victory against the Blazers on Saturday, it's clear he has potential as an offensive defenceman. For this reason and for the chance to watch him develop, he remains an interesting player to follow this season.
Michael Pezzetta #13, RW/C, Sudbury Wolves
Michael Pezzetta had some serious swings in performance this season. After not having any points at the end of last week and looking to be off his game, he had another truly impressive showing versus the Niagara IceDogs on Thursday, a match the Sudbury Wolves won 5-2. With his two points in that game added to his assist on Friday, he now has seven points in six games.
After blocking a shot in the defensive zone, and letting himself slide to retain his momentum, he scored a breakaway goal versus Niagara, displaying his accuracy by going five hole on Stephan Dhillon.
Pezzetta was very involved in the play every time he was on the ice in that game. With some intense pressure on opposing players and his intimidating presence, he created turnovers that his team could then turn into offence. His line had multiple five-on-five shifts where they retained possession of the puck for an extended period of time in the offensive zone, stealing it from defenders, and blocking all attempts to clear.
What remains a challenge for him, even in the good games he has, is keeping his temper in check. He took yet another retaliation penalty while his team was on the power play on Thursday. Something that should be easily avoidable.
Even the officials seem to know this tendency of his. It was comical to see one of the referees rush to protect an IceDogs player after he illegally hit the ticking timebomb that is Pezzetta, not wanting the allow the scene that was about to unfold as the Habs prospect was skating to him to obtain revenge.
It was not a game without mistakes for Pezzetta on Thursday. He still has a tendency to hold possession too long and work himself out of options, but if he can remain this relentless force on the ice, he will keep scoring a lot of points from the chaos he creates.
He has a well-defined identity as a player. If he can channel his aggressiveness in the right places, he could finally become a key player for the Wolves.
Weekly CHL performances
CHL season to date
Cale Fleury didn't play this week. He's serving a three-game suspension due to a dangerous cross-check that sent an Oil Kings player flying into the boards during Kootenay's game versus Edmonton on October 1. He should be back in the lineup on Saturday.
Scott Walford scored his first point of the season on Friday when the Victoria Royals faced the Kamloops Blazers. Walford has been a steady presence on the Royals’ blue line since the beginning of the season despite not putting up points. He created a couple of chances from stretch passes that were not converted.
Weekly NCAA/USHL performances
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||2||2||3||5|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||1||0||1||1|
Cayden Primeau, Montreal's seventh-round pick in 2017, started the season with a shutout, as Northeastern University smashed Sacred Heart 7-0. Primeau didn't have a very busy night, only facing 18 shots.
Weekly goaltending performances
|Michael McNiven||ECHL||Brampton||Season starts October 14th|
Next week, the St. Cloud State Huskies and Ryan Poehling, who already had an assist in his first game of the season, will face the Alaska Nanooks and Nikolas Koberstein in a back-t- back matchup. Hopefully, I will have some interesting clips of those games to provide for the next instalment of Catching the Torch.