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Catching The Torch: NCAA Habs Prospects — Jake Evans plays his way onto Team Canada's radar

Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens’ collegiate prospects from the past week.

UND.com

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.

The U.S. will have a slight advantage over Canada in the Pyeongchang Olympics coming up. Due to the structure of NCAA hockey, the American national team will have a talented pool of non-professional American players in their early 20s to pick from.

The best Canadian prospects — those most ready to play against men at the international level — are often playing professionally at a younger age which makes them ineligible for this year's Olympics with the NHL preventing contracted players from attending.

This is where Jake Evans and other slightly older promising Canadian players in the NCAA could come in. They joined a Division I hockey program to get a degree instead of going the CHL route. They could be a solution for the National Team looking to fill the roster with young, but more physically mature talent.

The Spengler Cup is an old tradition in Hockey and is regarded as very prestigious. It could be an amazing experience for Evans, on the doorstep of his pro career. It could bring him out of the sheltered college environment, and give him an occasion to learn from veteran players.

The tournament will be a tryout for the Olympics. All of Team Canada's brass will be watching and a memorable performance from Evans could earn him a flight to Pyeongchang in February.

Exciting perspective.

Jake Evans #18, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

It didn't take long for Notre Dame's top centre to regain his throne. He is once again at the top of the NCAA in scoring with his three-point performance on Saturday: one goal and two assists.

The Irish defeated the Minnesota Gophers in back-to-back games this weekend to extend their winning streak to nine.

While Denver and St. Cloud State seem locked into the titles of #1 and #2 teams in U.S. college hockey, Notre Dame is making a lot of noise, having strung together great performances and sitting atop of the Big Ten conference.

Notre Dame Big Ten

At the forefront of their achievements is their captain. A lot of people expected Evans to step up this season, but the extent to which he's done it is remarkable.

The season has gone on long enough to start talking about point pace. Even if Evans slows down, he's about to smash his total of last season. In the same number of games, he is projected to end up with 63 points; 21 more than the year before.

The departure of Anders Bjork had left a hole of 52 points in Notre Dame's roster. Evans is filling it up himself game by game with some beautifully executed passes.

Flashiness is a thing that comes out of the centreman's play once in a while, but it's his ability to anticipate and position himself that led to Notre Dame scoring the first goal of the game.

Before executing his crazy between-the-legs pass with his back turned to his target, Evans had first stopped the puck from exiting the zone, took possession back himself, and created another scoring chance. He then made himself an option to Cam Morrison behind the net and presented the goal on a silver platter to Cal Burke.

The same thing happened in the middle of the third period. As Morrison made his way inside the offensive zone, he lost the puck to a defender, but Evans’ forechecking route allowed him to cut the D-to-D pass. He once gain found Burke in front of the net for his second goal of the game.

After Andrew Oglevie was moved off of Evans' wing to be put back to centre, Evans showed some chemistry with his new linemates. He was noticeable carrying the offence for the new trio and had no trouble finding them on the ice.

That bodes well for his partners who could be accomplices in more great goals in the future. They will get chances like this attempt off the rush from Evans, just a few minutes after the first goal.

But more attention should be brought to the little things in Evans’ game. Despite his impressive production this season, those details are a big part of the reason he was selected to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup.

He's very responsible defensively constantly shoulder-checking and getting his stick in passing lanes. He applies pressure along with his defencemen deep in the zone, and doesn't let anyone get behind him uncovered.

You can see all of those things in the next clip. He joins his teammates in puck battles, but as soon as the opposing player gets an opening to make a play, he goes back to covering his man, tying up his stick.

He ultimately leads the breakout after his defenceman frees the puck.

While he's not the strongest in puck battles and retrievals, he plays like an experienced centre. More often than not he leads his team on either side of the ice, not jumping ahead of a play, being in a good support position, and giving short passing options to his teammates.

Evans’ second assist was one of his best shifts from the game. On the play, he had to give his stick to one of the defenceman who lost it, but still made sure to act as support to the best of his ability.

He positioned himself on the back post to prevent a backdoor play, and covered the point for his winger when he came down low, constantly checking for the opposite defender to not be caught off guard by a cross-ice pass.

As the play moved below the net, Evans came down to support his defence and cover a player who was left open in front of the crease. Morisson failed to adjust his positioning and take coverage of the defender, but after a missed shot, both he and Evans jump on the attack.

The Habs prospect still has the loose stick he picked up on the ice, but that didn't hamper his offensive ability too much. After a shot attempt, he got the puck to Colin Theisen coming fast from the bench, and Evans banged in a rebound past the Minnesota goalie for his sixth of the season.

NCAA/USHL weekly performance

Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jake Evans C Big Ten Notre Dame 2 1 2 3
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 2 0 2 2
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 0 0 0 0
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque 1 0 0 0

Nikolas Koberstein had 2 assists in the same number of games this week. The first was on a point shot that went off of one of his teammates, and the second on a delayed penalty. The Alaska Nanooks lost both their games versus Michigan Tech this week.

Ryan Poehling and the St. Cloud State Huskies had a week off. They play Omaha in back-to-back games next weekend.

NCAA/USHL season to date

Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jake Evans C Big Ten Notre Dame 16 6 19 22
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 14 1 5 6
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 11 3 10 13
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque 11 0 2 2

Weekly goaltender performence

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Hayden Hawkey NCAA Providence 1-1-0 2.00 0.918 1
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern - 0.66 0.900 0

Hayden Hawkey recorded his second shutout of the season on Friday when he stopped 24 shots from the University of Maine. It wasn't the most difficult night for Hawkey, but he was called upon to make more and more saves as the night went on to conserve the lead for Providence.

The Habs goalie prospect had some trouble with rebound control, but showcased his smooth transitions and pushes that gave him solid positioning on every shot he faced.

Season goalie stats

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Hayden Hawkey NCAA Providence 8-5-2 2.61 0.909 2
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 3-3-1 2.32 0.906 1

Cayden Primeau came in relief of Ryan Ruck this past Tuesday. He replaced him in the second period of Northeastern's game versus Connecticut, allowing one goal on 10 shots. Primeau could be back between the pipes as soon as this weekend when the Huskies face Merrimack in back-to-back games.

Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.