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Catching The Torch: The Casey Staum project — Two seasons later

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

USHL Fall Classic - Day 2 Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

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).

Casey Staum was drafted 124th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2016, using the fifth-round pick that they acquired in the Zack Kassian trade. The prospect spent a good part of his draft year out with a leg injury, but it didn't deter the Habs from taking a chance on him.

In the two seasons since he was brought under the wings of the organization, Staum has stayed mostly away from the spotlight. He had committed to attend the University of Nebraska-Omaha this season, but instead chose to go back for a second time with the Dubuque Fighting Saints for reasons that remain mostly unknown.

This wasn't the plan Montreal had in mind when they selected him; playing in the NCAA would have meant the experience of a higher level of play, and it would also have provided a better structure for him to develop in. Even if Dubuque is a good organization, it is a step below the college environment.

Still, with a year more of hockey under his belt, the expectations were higher for Staum at the start of 2017-18, even if he was coming back to the USHL. Unfortunately, he responded by scoring only three points in 18 games before getting injured at the end December, missing the remainder of the season. He didn't play many games, but his points per game still went down from 2016-17, and he failed to register a goal for a second straight year.

This lack of production at the American junior level contributes to the mystery that surrounds the player. An NHL prospect playing in this league should usually stand out more on the scoresheet, even if he is a defenceman. This is far from the case for Staum.

But despite what he has shown to this point, there's one element in his play that could still carry the fifth-rounder further in his career. It's also the reason why Montreal took a chance on him, and why NCAA teams have shown interest. Trevor Timmins pointed to it at the prospect training camp in July two years ago.

“You can see it here, the way he skates. He has a dimensional ability with his skating and we're hoping that it will carry on at the National Hockey League level. But, you have to have patience. That's going to be a few years down the road.”

Staum was always going to be a project for the organization. His incredibly smooth skating likely struck the imagination of U.S. scouts who envisioned him building upon it, using this ability to improve in his two-way game and regularly push the pace of the play as he matured.

With Staum, it's not really a matter of blazing speed, utilizing quick crossovers to run through the neutral zone with the puck like we often see out of Victor Mete. What the fifth-rounder has is a dominant acceleration and an impressive four-way mobility. He is both strong on his skates and able to change direction on a dime.

There's a real finesse to the way he moves on the ice, doing it almost gracefully at times. This translates to an ability to always keep up with any attackers coming his way. With his solid edgework, he can close the gap on anyone in an instant if they cut laterally on him, and stay leveled with them to try to knock them off the puck.

His skating can also offset some of his late defensive reads, as it gives him a chance to react at the last second to plays that others wouldn't be able to.

Staum also has some of those moments where he shines by carrying the puck, showing glimpses of a defender who could have an offensive impact on his team with his agile feet. At times, he's able to get around defenders with a combination of quick adjustments and some misdirection while in stride, rotating his body in one direction before exploding in the other.

But, unfortunately, those kind of flashes are rare, and there are more than a few kinks in his game that have kept him from taking the next step in his development.

His in-zone defensive game is a work in progress and that means that, even at the junior level, he isn't trusted to play on the penalty kill often, as his coach is preferring other blue-liners for short-handed minutes. He can't routinely make effective plays under pressure, even if his explosiveness could allow him to shake forecheckers, creating better breakouts for his team.

A probable lack of confidence means that Staum often seems uncomfortable with the puck on his stick. He isn't a very agile stick-handler, but he has more one-on-one ability than what he is willing to use every night. Right now, he's at his best when compromising; using his skating ability to quickly turn to face the play to give the puck to teammates on retrievals. It’s simple, but it allows him to utilize his strengths to his advantage.

On the offensive side, Staum can patrol the blue line with relative ease, but he keeps his head down a bit too much and has trouble finding open lanes for his wrist shots. Thus, a good percentage of the pucks he fires get blocked or miss the net.

He got one of his three assists this season with a quick release immediately upon receiving at the blue-line. This is something that could work better as a strategy for him if he is not able to create holes by displacing the defence for his shots to get through.

He can also be a threat in the offensive zone by trying for the odd backdoor play, but, as said previously, his seemingly conservative nature keeps those attempts down.

His low point total can be partly explained by these weaknesses in his game. The fact that he doesn't get many minutes on the power play also doesn't help him get his name on the scoresheet at the end of the night.

Overall, there's a lot that has to happen for Staum to ever reach the professional level. Timmins wasn't wrong to state that he's a long term project and that patience would be required.

The good news is that Staum has an amazing tool that not many others in his situation possess; his skating ability could single-handedly help him get a spot on the blue-line of a college team. There's no knowing when that will happen, but with his previous commitment, it is likely the route that he is still envisaging for his career down the road.

Taking this next step could make a huge difference for his game.

News from the CHL Playoffs

The Moose Jaw Warriors fell to the Swift Current Broncos in seven games. Josh Brook's season is over. The Warriors were one of the favourites to win it all, but, coinciding with Brook's slump, they slowly became a different team over the season: a very beatable one. The defenceman will have to bounce back next season to remind everyone that he's capable of a lot more than what he has displayed in the last few months.

William Bitten and the Bulldogs easily won their matchup versus the Niagara Icedogs in five games. Bitten spent some time on the third line in that series and, unfortunately, recorded no points. Hamilton will now face the Kingston Frontenacs in Round Three. This should be a hard contest as Gabriel Vilardi is on fire and has been leading the team with 20 points in 11 games.

Tonight, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds play their Game Seven versus the Owen Sound Attack. Hayden Verbeek may have sustained a concussion in Game Four, according to the Twitter account HoundsInsider. He has been sidelined for the last few days and might have to skip the deciding game.

Michael Pezzetta and the Sarnia Sting have been eliminated by the Kitchener Rangers in six games. The playoffs should have been an environment where the physical game of Pezzetta shone, but instead he had the most disappointing performance out of all the CHL Habs prospects, recording only two points in 12 games. Since the trade to the Sting, the Habs’ sixth-rounder has failed to perform to the standard he had set for himself at the beginning of the season while he was still captain of the Sudbury Wolves.

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

CHL playoff performance

Player Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Pos League Team GP G A P
William Bitten RW OHL Hamilton 10 2 5 7
Michael Pezzetta C OHL Sarnia 12 1 1 2
Hayden Verbeek C OHL Sault Ste. Marie 8 3 3 6
Cale Fleury RD WHL Regina 7 0 4 4
Jarret Tyszka LD WHL Seattle 3 0 1 1
Scott Walford LD WHL Victoria Injured
Josh Brook RD WHL Moose Jaw 10 1 5 6

CHL season to date

Player Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Pos League Team GP G A P
William Bitten RW OHL Hamilton 62 20 44 64
Michael Pezzetta C OHL Sarnia 63 23 29 52
Hayden Verbeek C OHL Sault Ste. Marie 67 30 31 61
Cale Fleury RD WHL Regina 68 12 39 51
Jarret Tyszka LD WHL Seattle 70 8 32 40
Scott Walford LD WHL Victoria 69 2 30 32
Josh Brook RD WHL Moose Jaw 45 3 29 32

NCAA/USHL season performance

Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jake Evans C Big Ten Notre Dame 40 13 33 46
Nikolas Koberstein RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 36 1 11 12
Ryan Poehling C NCHC St. Cloud State 36 14 17 31
Casey Staum LD USHL Dubuque 18 0 3 3

Goalies season performance

Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Hayden Hawkey NCAA Providence 24-12-3 2.04 0.919 4
Cayden Primeau NCAA Northeastern 19-8-5 1.92 0.931 3