Prospect development isn’t just about the dominating performances and gaudy offensive output, but also how players adapt and progress. For 2014’s 207th-overall pick, Jake Evans, the progression has been constant.
Going to the NCAA as a true freshman, Evans posted 17 points in 41 games in a depth role. Even with a strong senior class in 2015-16, Evans worked his way to the top line after a switch to centre. Not only did his production nearly double, but he suddenly emerged as one of Hockey East’s top defensive players.
There were two major questions coming into this season:
- Will Evans improve his shot in order to give him more options offensively?
- Can Evans improve his consistency and avoid the late-season dry spell that plagued him in his first two seasons?
Although Evans remains a playmaker first and foremost, he has set a career-high in goals with 13 and improved his shots-on-goal-per-game rate from 1.49 to 2.72 in the last season.
As for question #2, Evans has been a model of consistency in the second half. As a freshman he collected just five points in the last 22 games. As a sophomore he also ran into late-season struggles with just one assist in the final six games. Furthermore, his game-to-game performances were quite inconsistent.
This season Evans has taken his game to the next level in the second half. With points in 19 of the last 22 games, Evans has managed to hit the score sheet with remarkable constancy.
Additionally, Evans continues to be a strong primary-point creator, with 18 of 25 helpers on the year being first assists. In fact, his 0.5 primary-assists-per-game rate is tied for the lead among Hockey East juniors. Meanwhile, he’s a strong even-strength scorer with 0.72 even-strength points per game and 0.42 even-strength assists per game, both of which are tied for third among HE juniors.
What separates Evans’ playmaking from nearly every prospect in the organization (save for Scherbak) and most NCAAers, is his ability to pass into high-danger areas.
The video below demonstrates the skill, and the required complementary tools, with three clips from this past weekend’s best-of-three series against Providence and one from earlier in the season. (It also shows two quality saves from Hayden Hawkey.)
As discussed, Evans is more than just a capable playmaker. He’s a responsible defensive player, which he demonstrated against Providence College this weekend.
Evans was matched up against Brian Pinho and Erik Foley, two talented offensive players, and was a huge reason why Notre Dame held them to just two points combined and subsequently won the series in two games.
Attention to detail has been integral in Evans’ consistent second half, such as waiting a split second for a passing lane to open up, patience and diligence in his own zone, or shortening his shift length as his defensive responsibilities ramp up.
This eye for detail really paid off for Notre Dame in Game 2. With a one-goal lead seven minutes into third, Evans established offensive zone pressure. As Notre Dame applied intense pressure, the tired Evans quickly sneaked off the ice to allow the energized Andrew Oglevie to come on. Within 10 seconds, Oglevie set up Bobby Nardella who scored the eventual game-winner.
It’s small decisions like these — ones that many young players wouldn’t make — that make Evans so effective.
Noah Juulsen began the week with a solid performance versus Spokane. While his pointless streak was extended to six games (it would be broken with two assists the following game), he set up a few dandy offensive chances.
He continued to play on the second power-play unit (as he has most of the season), but was no longer running it. Instead, Juulsen lined up on the faceoffs as a winger, and led the rush a few times. In formation, Juulsen played at the top of the circle, presumably to decrease his shooting distance. While the experiment didn’t last the weekend, it was another reminder of his versatility.
Although his 32 points in 46 games are modest, it’s important to remember the context. Everett plays a strict defensive style that limits offensive freedom and creativity from the blue line, which is evident in the production of Everett’s last two major blue-line acquisitions. Last season, Everett acquired Brycen Martin, who scored at a 0.96 P/GP clip with Saskatoon, but only 0.32 P/GP with Everett. This season, Aaron Irving’s was scoring at a 1.10 P/GP clip pre-trade, but has only scored at a 0.43 rate with Everett.
While the points don’t come easy for Juulsen, he certainly possesses more offensive talent than we’ve seen.
Take this clip from Sunday night, for example, where he creates two passing lanes, connects with both options, and shows off his smooth skating in the process. To top it off, Juulsen was at the end of his shift (he calls for a change after the first pass, but the puck comes back to him, so he makes the most of it):
The London Knights had an interesting juxtaposition. Sandwiched between two matchups against bottom-feeding Guelph was a game against the top team in the OHL: the Erie Otters. Predictably, Victor Mete grabbed a point in the two matchups against bottom-feeding Guelph.
Against Erie, Mete did not fare as well. Erie was able to exploit London’s quick-off-the-boards transition with a high F3. Mete had numerous exit attempts picked off resulting in failed exits and continued pressure. He also lost an uncharacteristic amount of puck battles. All-in-all, it was an rare weak performance from Mete, who has been consistently impactful this year.
It was a big week for Matt Bradley and the Medicine Hat Tigers. Not only did Bradley finally pot the elusive first WHL hat trick, but the Tigers clinched the Central Division title and scored a staggering 17 goals in three games. Although Bradley’s week began with an underwhelming performance, the following night saw him snap a three-game scoring skid (his longest since early December) with that three-goal performance. The final of the three was a screaming wrist shot; a tool that has been key in his offensive breakout this season.
Bradley sits 12th in even-strength goals per game played at 0.40, on par with top WHL scoring talents like Sam Steel, Adam Brooks, and Nolan Patrick.
Will Bitten recorded a goal and an assist in a 7-3 blowout of the Eastern Conference-leading Peterborough Petes. Hamilton looks to be matched up against the Kingston Frontenacs in the first round of the playoffs, which begin in two weeks. Hamilton leads the season series 3-1-1 with one regular-season matchup remaining.
With six goals and eight points in the last 10 games, Jacob de la Rose is on a nice scoring run right now. He scored two goals this week, including a nice short-handed breakaway tally.
There’s no doubt that de la Rose has offensive skill, but the execution wavers. He’s a powerful skater with decent hands who carries the puck at a quality level, but often fails to turn it into offence. Perhaps the biggest concern is de la Rose’s lack of shot generation, as he averages just 1.63 shots on goal per game. Not only is this clip concerning, but he’s best as a shooter. Instead, he’s spent much of the season with limited confidence and struggling to get the puck out of his own zone.
Over the past few seasons, de la Rose has tallied numerous notable scoring streaks, but they’re surrounded by slow starts and poor offensive totals once returning from the NHL.
Few prospects have progressed as much as Brett Lernout has this season. That’s a testament to not only how far he’s come, but how rough last season was for him. He’s improved defensively, but still his gap control and decision-making aren’t close to NHL level. Offensively, he flashes spurts of confidence.
This week, Lernout illustrated plenty of the good and the bad. He played physically, yet disciplined, and he made a few noteworthy defensive plays. He even chipped in two assists and did a good job getting pucks through traffic in Saturday’s game. However, he also blew his coverage multiple times and allowed zone entries far too easily.
Hayden Hawkey’s season is now over. He and Providence College took on Notre Dame in a thrilling best-of-three series. While he had a rough five-goals-against outing in Game 1, he bounced back with a strong performance in Game 2. Unfortunately, Notre Dame’s high-powered offence, featuring Jake Evans and Anders Bjork in fine form, was too much to handle. Midway through the third, Providence’s defensive structure fell apart, but Hawkey stood tall.
The sophomore played every minute in Providence’s crease this season. He backstopped the team to a nine-game win streak and had stellar performances against top programs like Boston College and Boston University.