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.
We have reached the end of thefirst half of the NCAA season, and therefore it's time for a recap of the events of the first 20 or so games. Most teams have a long break in their schedule until the end of December, so this will be the last NCAA edition of Catching The Torch until the Montreal Canadiens’ college players get back on the ice then.
Jake Evans, C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
It's been around six weeks that Jake Evans has been in the lead of the NCAA’s points race. He lost it for a brief period to Troy Terry, but immediately got the place back the next weekend.
His set of games versus Nebraska-Omaha, where he picked up seven assists, propelled him into that position in October. It first looked like a bit of a fluke as he had played a lot more games than most of the players that were right behind him.
That's not the case anymore. He has 28 points in 20 games and a two-point lead over the next closest on the top scorers list.
This is to say that, after an impressive first half of the season, Evans looks like an enticing target for multiple NHL teams. The fact that he has been invited to represent Team Canada at the Spangler Cup means that he will also have a great opportunity to display what he can do to every organization out there.
Still, an excellent performance in the tournament would be first and foremost good news for Montreal. It would mean that he has aptitudes outside of the sheltered environment of the NCAA.
And, according to the multitude of interviews Evans has given since being put under the spotlight, his intentions remain firmly to sign with Montreal.
That doesn't necessarily mean that we will see him play in a Habs sweater this season. Notre Dame looks dominant and could realistically play longer than the usual NCAA calendar and reach the Frozen Four in April.
The Irish have not lost a game in more than a month. They are on a 13-game winning streak, remain undefeated on the road, and currently sit third in the NCAA rankings, looking as strong as the teams ranked ahead of them.
Evans is at the forefront of that success. He has 11 more points than the Irish’s second-most-productive player and is chipping in with more goals this season.
He has the abilities to create amazing scoring chances for his team, and still has room to do that even more often per game. Things have generally gone his way in the first half of the season, inflating his assist total.
He has to show he can continue to carry Notre Dame's offence while maintaining his tempo and defensive play in preparation for the more difficult interconference matchups ahead and the jump to pro hockey in just a few months’ time.
The experience he will get at the Spengler Cup alongside some hockey veterans would be invaluable experience for his future.
Some highlights from the first half of the season.
Ryan Poehling, C, St. Cloud Huskies
Poehling has been a bit of a surprise for most this season. He came into it with an etiquette of a great defensive player with limited offensive upside. It was said of him that he would develop this other side of his game slowly as he matured in St. Cloud's system.
He still needs to work on his shot to have more diverse offensive tools, but he has already proven those expectations to be completely wrong. It took him until mid-November to smash his point total of last season and he now has 16 points in 14 games.
Poehling is still the same player, he just has a ton of added confidence. His great mind for the game always allowed him to see plays develop very quickly on the ice and this is still the driving factor behind his productivity.
His short-handed goal on Friday.
His defensive play is as strong as ever for that same reason. He takes pucks away from opponents, cuts passes, and jumps on loose pucks. But now, he also starts a good deal of breakouts and rushes the other way.
He has an incredible passing ability, but what separates him from others with the same skill is that he doesn't reveal his intentions in the offensive zone. He keeps the other team guessing and manages some hard cross-ice passes this way. It forces goalies to move laterally and creates great scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The regularity with which he accomplishes those plays is something new this season. Each weekend comes with a new highlight reel that now also features him protecting the puck for extended periods of time and out-skating defenders.
He plays big minutes on the penalty kill and against other teams’ toplines, but it doesn't impair his offence. He thrives on challenges. And the upcoming World Juniors is just the place for him to display how great of a player he is.
If there's one gem in the Habs’ prospect pool, it's Ryan Poehling. He won't always shine brighter than the others, but this is not something he’s seeking to do. He fits right where you need him to and is the piece that makes the rest of the ensemble work.
Cayden Primeau, G, Northeastern Huskies
Northeastern's mid-season's break is actually next weekend as they have one last game against Merrimack on the 16th. And it's a sure bet that Cayden Primeau will be in net for it.
After a rocky start to the season, Primeau has chained together some great performances. He is now the clear number-one goalie for the Huskies, even starting in back-to-back games the weekend before last.
In his previous five starts, the netminder has not dipped below a .900 save percentage. His overall mark is also slowly climbing, now sitting at .920 for the season. This is good enough for the 12th spot in the NCAA, and fourth among freshmen. His goals-against average of 2.06 also makes him the second best in that category.
The Habs prospect must have been in the conversation for the selection of the US World Junior Team as he has a better GAA than all three of the selected goalies and a better save percentage than two of them.
Even if he won't get to be part of that adventure this year, he has a strong team in Northeastern that could bring him far into the post-season; another great potential experience for the young goalie.
Saves from November 10
Primeau seems to be improving with every game. He is a great story in this first half of the season and deserves to be on everyone's radar.
Nikolas Koberstein, D, Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks
Koberstein is in his third year with Alaska-Fairbanks and has been taking on a bigger role for the team. Getting some power-play time helped him beat his point total from last season early on.
Producing with more regularity, he now has nine points in 20 games, third in scoring for defencemen on the Nanooks. This weekend, against Alaska Anchorage, he also had his first multi-point game, with two assists.
Koberstein plays a hard game, looking to block shots and land the occasional crushing hit. In the two games I've watched, it was clear he needed to improve his reads before he could be labeled a solid defensive defenceman, something he should aspire to in regards to continuing his career in the professional leagues.
With his +7 goal differential, he stands second right now on his team in plus/minus, and first among defencemen. This means that he has taken some steps in the right direction this season, after finishing a staggering -17 last year.
Hayden Hawkey, G, Providence College
Hawkey has had some rough performances that have brought down what would be otherwise regarded as a very solid first half. He was the most consistent goalie in the organization for a while.
It's possible that he could still end up with that title at the end of the season, factoring in the sometimes fluctuating performances of young goalies in new leagues. Hawkey has more experience than them in his situation, currently in his third year with Providence College and the second as a starter.
In the game I've watched, Hawkey had some issues with rebound control that did get better as the game went on. His athleticism saved him on a couple of occasions, but on the vast majority of shots he was square to the puck and ready in perfect position.
Saves from November 24
His save percentage now sits at .906 and his GAA at 2.61. These stats will only get improve in the second half.
*I have not watched Casey Staum yet this season. I'll make sure to reserve a spot for him at some point after Christmas.
NCAA/USHL weekly performance
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||2||0||0||0|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||2||1||0||1|
NCAA/USHL season to date
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||20||7||21||28|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||14||5||11||16|
Weekly goalie performance
Goalie season performance
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