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) and collegiate level(USHL, NCAA).
Jake Evans' NCAA career is over, just a couple of goals away from a fairy-tale ending and being able to celebrate with the program he has been growing in for the past four years, with a team he had led in reaching distance of the ultimate prize in college hockey.
Notre Dame looked destined to win it all.
But Minnesota Duluth stood tall against them and slipped away with the victory.
It was another close battle, something the Fighting Irish are very familiar with; a young Bulldogs team showed a very effective neutral zone defence and limited the access to the slot in their own end, and this time the Irish couldn't come up with an answer. That was after winning five one-goal games to get to the finals.
Evans' season ended on sad note, but it's a run he can be proud of. Eight points in six playoffs game, including the game-winning goals in the semi-finals.
It was pure joy when the puck fired from his stick slipped in between the legs of Michigan's goalie in that game. There were only a few seconds to go in the third period, and Evans knew he had just given his team a ticket to the finals. In typical fashion, the play had started with him picking up the puck in his zone and carrying it out, showing once again that he is willing to first outwork on defence to make some magic happen at the other end.
The captain really stepped up on Thursday. Notre Game was once again behind on the score board, but, with a one-timer while sliding away from the top of the circle, Evans tied the game at 2-2. Morrisson did a good job screening in front of the net, but the shot had some real power behind it, piercing through to reach the top left corner.
Evans capped off the tournament with two other assists, one in each game. On Thursday, he attracted a defender by faking a shot and passed the puck to Andrew Oglevie who had a better look at the net and got the Irish on the board, and, on Saturday, he started a tic-tac-toe that led to the team's only goal, once again, off the stick of Oglevie.
When Evans skated in the Finals, it was his 158th game with Notre Dame, putting the final note on a story that started four years ago and that transformed him as a player.
In 2013-14, Evans was coming off a late season surge in the OJHL that made him catch the interest of the Montreal Canadiens, who drafted him 207th overall. Now, after taking on bigger and bigger roles with the Irish through the seasons, developing a two-way game and scoring 138 points, he is ready to move on to his professional career.
Evans made the choice to sign with the team that believed the most in him in his draft year, one that is now in dire need of help at the center position. His two-year entry level contract will give him a real chance to prove he has what to it takes to win one of the vacant spot down the middle in the Habs lineup.
What to expect from Jake Evans?
Evans has great leadership qualities and is a team first guy. He is a selfless player, ready to give his all ever night, and has been the best player on Notre Dame's team in 2017-18. He stepped up when Anders Bjork departed for the Boston Bruins and proved he had great offensive capabilities in the NCAA in his last year, flirting with the lead in scoring for a while at the start of the season.
His biggest progression as a player was over the course of his first three years. Which is normal considering this is where he was transitioning into the number one center role for the Fighting Irish and the period where players generally develop the fastest. Now, at 21 years old, he is not a finished product by any means, but there're some indications as to what he can do and where his limits are.
He isn't a dominant skater by any stretch of the imagination. He can fly past some slower defenders in the NCAA, but overall can't create a real separation off the rush. He isn't explosive, and still has trouble winning pucks along the boards with some occasional balance issues. Some of those areas in his game got better as the years went on, especially his puck protection, but he will still need to work on those to make an impact at the next level. His limited ice time at the Spengler Cup likely had something to do with him adjusting to a faster pace of play.
Evans' strength is his vision of the game. He has a great passing ability and can routinely thread the needle to feed the puck to teammates in scoring area. He can use deception to open passing lane, but, more often, he seemingly knows where his line-mates are and is able to quickly reach them before they are covered.
Here's a collection of highlights from this season. Jake Evans wears #18 with Notre Dame.
He also possesses a good shot and a quick release that he could stand to use more, and has shown that he is capable of slipping away from the defence to set himself up to fire the odd one-timer. That being said, his identity lies much closer to a playmaker than a goal scorer. With the puck on his stick, he will look to pass the majority of the times.
Evans' defensive play has always been rightfully praised in his NCAA career, but there's still work to be done on that side of the game for him as he transitions to professional play. He can regularly make some great reads, take away the puck and carry it up the ice, but, against the stronger and faster players he will face, mistakes in positioning won't be repaired as easily, especially if he can't rely on strong skating to catch-up. There's also concerns to be had about his one-on-one battles in close quarters.
My opinion is that Evans needs time in the minors before he can aspire to a role in the NHL. The NCAA is a great breeding ground for talent, but for someone who has to figure out ways around some of the issues in his game, the jump between the junior league and the NHL is likely too big to be made as soon as next training camp.
However, if there's one thing Will Butcher has taught us, it is that you should never bet against a smart player, even if he doesn't move around the ice as fast as others. We won't know where Evans' qualities will place him in the depth chart until next season and he has the tools to cause a surprise.
No matter what happens, watching him develop in red, white and blue will be very exciting for Montreal. He will now have an NHL organization overseeing his development and fresh sets of eyes to look at him and oversee his growth. The Habs have uncovered a gem with a seventh round pick. It's a cause to celebrate, especially when the prospect willingly joins your organization when the possibility was offered to him to look elsewhere.
Hayden Verbeek #38, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Sault Ste. Marie has been struggling early on against Owen Sound. The Attack is a team equipped to go far in the post-season, coming into it as the six overall seed. To get past them, the Greyhounds will need an outstanding performance out of their group and they got it on Friday not from their usual stars, but from one of their overager, Hayden Verbeek.
He had probably his best performance of the season on that day. In a five to four overtime victory for the Greyhounds, Verbeek had two goals and an assist. He was a very deserved first star of the game, but his performance also valued him the first star of the night in the entire OHL.
His lone assist was his most important point, as it was a set up on the game-winning goal of Tim Gettinger. Verbeek received the puck below the goal line and skated behind the net before retracing his steps with a quick cut, shaking off the defender covering him. He reached Gettinger with a short pass that was immediately deflected in the net.
Verbeek is a hard player to defend. Defencemen rarely have time to try to knock him off the puck. As soon as he feels pressure coming onto him, he's able to explode in a chosen direction. His puck handling skills can also quickly get him out of trouble combined with his edge work.
His first goal of the game was another display of his elusiveness. He rushed in the offensive zone, pulled the puck behind his back, out of the reach of the defence, and, as soon as he attracted an opponent on him, he pushed it in a space where he would get to first and, a second later, slid it to the front of the net. Fortunately for him, his intended pass deflected between the legs of the goalie and got his team on the board.
Verbeek was on overdrive the entire time he was on the ice on Friday. He plays the game at a ridiculous pace in general. Exploding to get open for passes, his foot speed only can rival his mad shuffling of the puck whenever he has possession.
And the diminutive forward applies the same energy on defence. His two-way game got him his second goal of the night, as he first battled down low — showing an ability to spin off defenders to come out with the puck — before rushing up the ice with possession. His course led him all the way in the offensive zone uncontested, where he then let a shot rip from the face-off dot and beat the Owen Sound's goalie above the shoulder on his short side.
Verbeek has six points in the same number of playoff games. Inking a contract with the Habs seems to have motivated him to show the extent of what he can bring to a team. And with the fire he has been displaying, it's getting hard to not get excited for the impact he might have for Laval next season.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL playoff performance
|Hayden Verbeek||C||OHL||Sault Ste. Marie||7||3||3||6|
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||9||1||5||6|
CHL season performance
|Hayden Verbeek||C||OHL||Sault Ste. Marie||67||30||31||61|
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||45||3||29||32|
NCAA playoff performance
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||6||2||6||8|
|Nikolas Koberstein||RD||WCHA||Alaska-Fairbanks||Season over|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||1||0||0||0|
NCAA/USHL season to date
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||40||13||33||46|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||36||14||17||31|
Goalies season performance