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.
While Ryan Poehling is out playing against the top junior players in the world and Jake Evans is coming back from Davos after winning the Spengler Cup with Team Canada, the NCAA season continues its course.
Cayden Primeau is moving into the spotlight in quick fashion with the Northeastern Huskies. His stats, a .927 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average, make him the top freshman goalie in the league and puts him above the majority of netminders, notably all three goalies who were selected for USA’s World Juniors team.
Since he has taken over the starting spot for the Huskies at the start of November, he's fourth in the entire NCAA in both save percentage (0.942) and goal-against average (1.63) and has been performing way above the expectations that came with his seventh-round selection.
Cayden Primeau, G, Northeastern Huskies
On Saturday, Primeau stopped 24 of the 25 shots directed at him. He helped the Huskies defeat the American International College 3-1, a win only concretized in the last minute with an empty-netter from Matt Filipe.
While Northeastern dominated the game in terms of scoring chances, Primeau was called into action more than a few times to repair teammates mistakes and keep the one-goal lead of his team.
An overused word to describe goalies is ‘composed,’ and it is something Habs fan are very used to hearing. Still, it perfectly characterizes Primeau's play in that game.
Not once did it feel like he was being challenged or frantically searching for the puck. Of course, some of the credit of that has to be given to his efficient defence, but Northeastern's young netminder was a rock in the crease, one his team could lean on with their small lead.
In the above clip, even abandoned to a one-on-one against a heavy screen, Primeau is able to follow the play very well, tracking the puck and the shooter between the legs of the opponent standing in front of him.
With small, quick movements, staying on his skates waiting for the release, he makes a great save and locks his eyes on the puck deflecting to a safe area behind the net.
He is comfortable with his heel at the top of the blue paint to challenge approaching forwards from that angle. On what was probably his best stop of the game, made on a breakaway created by a turnover at his blue line, he showcased this same positioning.
Getting down as he's anticipating the shot, he's covering the lower part of the net, but seems to know the shot is going high blocker: the area he has left open. With a swift motion. he deflects the puck away to the other side, not giving any rebound opportunity to AIC's #14.
Primeau's rebound control in that game was excellent, and he attached a high importance to it, always making sure he coordinated himself to minimize second scoring chances.
However, not all saves can be made by being positionally sound, and when a shot unexpectedly deflected in front right to the stick of an opponent in the third period, Primeau put his great athleticism to use.
While in the butterfly position, he lifted his left leg to give himself a stronger push and managed to slide far enough to his right to get out of the blue paint. He stopped the next shot, but also cut almost all chances of a puck getting past him by getting enough of his body in front of the puck.
This was an important save in a third period were AIC were trying to tie the game.
Saturday saw another strong performance out of Primeau, one that would have been a shutout had it not been for a lucky goal against. A shot deflected off of the torso of an opponent only to enter the net at a bizarre angle. Either that or it was one of the most calculated plays in the history of hockey. I'll let you decide.
Jake Evans #18, C, Team Canada
Jake Evans’ best shift of the Spengler Cup was his first.
Trusted with a defensive faceoff, he picked up the puck and carried it over his blue line. He then made a pass to enter the offensive zone, received a return feed, and dropped the puck to P.-A. Parenteau. The ex-Habs player unfortunately fumbled a perfect opportunity to open the scoring for Team Canada in the tournament.
Apart from that shift, Evans' first game was quite uneventful. And so was the rest of the tournament for the NCAA’s top scorer.
He finished the event with a -1 goal differential. And after playing 14:45 in the opening contest, Notre Dame's star player only got around five minutes of ice time for Canada's next two games before seeing a bit more action in the final, with 11:19 of playing time.
So, what happened?
To start, per tournament rules, teams were allowed to have 20 players on the bench. It translated to 13 forwards and seven defencemen for Canada. Willie Desjardins then had the choice to dress Evans, but not play him very much, favouring veterans over his younger player who didn't have years of professional play behind him.
However, the limited minutes can't only be explained by coaching preference, as 22-year-old Dylan Sikura of Northeastern University played a decent amount in all four games.
The extremely short shifts the Habs prospect had didn't leave much of a chance to evaluate him, especially after being moved to the wing, but the fact that Evans is far from an explosive skater might have played against him.
The Habs’ seventh-rounder's game is all cerebral. He anticipates the movement of his teammates and opponents alike and reacts in ways that allow him to steal the puck, start quick transitions, and make great passes to teammates in prime scoring area.
Watching him, Evans didn't appear to be ahead of the play like he usually is. He was playing catch-up in a few of his longer shifts and it didn't allow him to be the dominating presence on the ice he is at the NCAA level.
Having played college hockey as a true freshman, Evans is still only 21-year-old. He can be considered a late-bloomer, and for this reason it's very likely that he's not done developing as a player.
This experience at the Spengler Cup could be an eye-opener that pushes him to work on the areas of his game in need of improvement in order to fully use his great mind for the game at the professional level.
In the meantime, Evans is going back to Notre Dame a Spengler Cup champion with a unique experience as a Team Canada member under his belt.
Despite how the tournament went, it's hard to see the experience as anything other than very positive. Evans got the chance to play and learn alongside experienced hockey players with very different backgrounds and get out of the sheltered college environment to get a taste of what might await him next year.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
Goalies weekly performance
Goalies season performance
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|