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Catching The Torch: It will take time for Jayden Struble to adjust to the NCAA

His teammate, Jordan Harris, is stepping it up for Northeastern.

Shanna Martin

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 (QMJHL, OHL, WHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

It will take time for Jayden Struble to conform his free-flowing and, at times, seemingly carefree style of play to the demands of NCAA hockey.

His first game back from injury against Holy Cross showed there is plenty for the defenceman to learn before he can be trusted with bigger minutes. Struble only had a few shifts, and it was probably for the best in the tightly played game. He had trouble sticking to assignments defensively and showed a lack of urgency in his puck-moving, gliding back to retrieve the puck like he did last year against his high-school competition.

When Struble awoke from his dormant state, however, he showed what his talent paired with his ever-present high confidence can bring to the team.

Watch this give-and-go at the blueline.

Jayden Struble wears #3 with the Northeastern Huskies.

It allowed him to beat a defender, accelerate towards the slot, and receive a drop pass to unleash a powerful shot at the net.

This clip, and a couple of other rushes during the game, are a promise of the offensive punch Struble will bring for Northeastern. No other blueliner on the team has the skill-set to work it, and for that he can be a great asset. But first, he needs to be dependable. Solid play away from the puck and in transitions is what will earn the opportunities to make use of his talent.

The good news is that the coaching staff of the Huskies already has experience reigning in another wild defenceman in Jeremy Davies, the team’s former number-one defenceman turned pro. The departure of the high-producing offensive blueliner leaves a hole on the backend, and it is one Struble could fill down the road.

Jordan Harris, D, Northeastern Huskies

For now, in the absence of his partner from the year before, Jordan Harris has stepped up. He has grown into this steady, trustworthy option coaches tend to utilize more. Harris still plays the penalty kill, but also mans the point on the second powerplay at the dawn of this new season, something he didn’t get a chance to do last year.

He already has four points in four games, and has scored on a penalty shot, lobbing the puck above the goalie as he was moving laterally to match the defenceman’s east-west approach.

The penalty shot chance came after a sequence where Harris broke a play in the neutral zone to join the attack. As he was about to escape on a breakaway, the opposing defence had no choice but to trip him.

Neutral zone defence, or blocking the path of incoming attackers before the defensive blueline is still what Harris does best for Northeastern. His foot work, gap and timing are excellent against the college competition.

A good gap is often achieve through offensive involvement; if a defenceman supports the play and is at the center of it, he is more often in a position to immediately disrupt opponents once the puck changes hands.

In the clip below, Harris is supporting the attack deep in the zone. As he moves up with his forwards in the sequence, the distance between him and the opposing puck carrier breaking out is already appropriately set when possession is lost — he only has to level laterally with the opponent.

Jordan Harris wears #2 with the Northeastern Huskies

Harris also makes use of his support. His forwards are rapidly coming back through the middle of the ice. So, he denies the wide lane to the attacker with his stick and pushes him towards a teammate to his right, then smoothly pivots to close down the space and take away the puck.

This was one of a many solid rush defence from Harris during that game, as he continued to make smart use of his tools, his stick and his superior skating in his defensive game.

And, after a difficult game against Massachusetts in the breakout aspect of the game, where Harris threw some pucks away with better available plays, the defenceman was the transition force that he can be at the top of his game for Northeastern.

He looked for holes through the forecheck before getting possession and better used the time and space afforded to him to move away from pressure and find the stick of his teammates. And when he didn’t have such time and space, he showed himself more willing to absorb back pressure, spin off of it with great balance and send the puck up the ice in a controlled way.

Northeastern are projected to be middle of the pack in their conference’s standing this year. The lost of their star goalie Cayden Primeau, on top of Davies and a few veterans, puts them more in the category of ‘‘ teams who can surprise’’ than contenders for a title.

It will be a formative year for their young defence as they learn to play together. With a rapid enough upward curve in Struble’s development, we could even see both Habs defenceman prospects play together on the same pairing. It has already happened a couple of times during the game with Harris slotting to the left of his teammate.

Who knows? It might be a good preparation for what is to come in their future with the Montreal franchise.

CHL Weekly Stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 1 5 6
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 2 2 4
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 3 2 2 4
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 2 2 2 4
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 3 0 1 1
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 4 2 4 6
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 4 0 1 1
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3 0 0 0

CHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 31 15 23 38
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 31 15 27 42
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 26 10 29 39
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 27 11 19 30
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 27 2 13 15
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 25 5 26 31
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 25 4 16 20
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 30 0 3 3

NCAA Weekly Stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 1 1
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 2 0 2
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 2 0 1 1
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 1 1 2
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 0 0 0
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 0 0 0 0

NCAA Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 14 1 1 2
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 18 12 8 20
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 15 3 7 10
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 14 2 3 5
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 17 3 8 11
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 20 5 9 14