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Catching The Torch: Jayden Struble is slowly but surely adapting to the NCAA

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Cole Caufield shows off some playmaking skills, while Rhett Pitlick gets a chance with a new team.

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Kevin Light/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, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Sometimes you only need to get one for the floodgates to open. Jayden Struble hasn’t scored a ton in his start to the year — only two points in 11 games — but the scoring chances are there. He creates a couple of great looks every game and his involvement on the attack should have led to more points on the board.

It’s great to see the sentiment echoed by the staff of Northeastern. There is continued trust in Struble trough his up and downs. Coaches believe in his potential as an offensive defenceman. They believe he can be a difference-maker, and they deploy him as such, maximizing his offence through power-play time and offensive-zone starts.

Finally, on Saturday, Struble hammered the puck home. He came down from the offensive blue line a few feet inside the zone to receive a pass coming from back boards, and didn’t miss his chance to wind up for one of his big slapshots. It gave little chance to the goalie to make a stop.

Jayden Struble wears #3 with the Northeastern Huskies

The celebration was warranted. Struble had been waiting for that moment for weeks. The defenceman isn’t used to being left off the scoresheet; he scored 70 points in 58 games in the last two years at St. Sebastien’s School and was its main offensive driver. That’s something he should also become, in time, with Northeastern.

The hope for the team is that their back end continues to find chemistry and develops an ability to read off each other. It is especially important for Struble, who sometimes misses cues given by his partners.

In the sequence below, Jordan Harris picks up the puck low in the defensive zone. He gets his head up to look for support, but there is none to be seen. Struble is standing in front of the net, showing good defensive positioning by protecting access to the slot, but not being of any help to Harris.

Northeastern is a conservative team, and that might be partly by design. That said, if Struble had continued to skate toward his partner and fellow Habs prospect, Harris could have reversed the puck to him. Or if he moved to the other side of the net, there would have been an option to make a quick backhand pass the other way.

Instead, Harris got double-teamed and the forecheck could easily stop the breakout by stacking to one side of the ice. After the turnover, Northeastern went into a defensive-zone sequence and Struble could have better used his biggest asset — his feet — to shadow his attacker and limit his space. These are the little things that Struble will learn to master.

In the meantime, we can all enjoy his upside. Watch this crushing hit of his in the second period of Saturday’s game.

Cole Caufield, RW, Wisconsin Badgers

Caufield is officially snakebitten. After scoring eight goals in seven games in October, he has just one in the same number this month. A dropoff was expected after his incredible start to his college career, but his red-hot debut heightened expectations to a level where not getting scoring highlights after a game is now outside the norm.

This all speaks to his talent level, and heavily contrasts with the objective for most freshmen his age. Success for them is usually defined as getting a point every other game at this stage of their path through the NCAA. It’s closer to what has been happening for Caufield lately — but I don’t think it’s his norm either. It’s probable that his shooting percentage lifts up, pucks start going in again, and his overall production remains much higher than for your typical freshman.

In the meantime, as discussed in last week’s edition of Catching The Torch, Caufield has found other ways to produce, replacing his temporary loss of goal-scoring touch with a steady collection of assists.

This weekend he set up Sean Dhooghe, the only player who doesn’t look down at him on the Wisconsin roster. It was a beautifully orchestrated offensive-zone entry where he showed many interesting elements: a change of lane, speed and handling, fakes, and shoulder-checks to locate threats as he got into the zone.

In his rush, Caufield first moved from outside the dots to inside of them, dragging the defence that way. Right as he was about to make contact with a first defender, he again faked going wide, enough to make that defender hesitate and to gain the blue line. He slowed down upon entering the zone, giving himself time and keeping the puck out of reach of multiple opposing sticks. He then moved in the direction opposite to his neutral-zone rush; from inside the dots to outside of them. Again, he dragged the defence with him. Lastly, by looking over his shoulder as he executed his feint, he found Dhooghe streaking, unchecked, inside a slot deserted by defenders.

The play showed a great understanding of rush offence. The patterns he used, if fully added to his repertoire, will help to continue bolstering the playmaking side of his game at the college level, and even as he looks to join the pro ranks next year.

Rhett Pitlick, LW, Muskegon Lumberjacks

Pitlick moved from one struggling team to another one this week, traded to the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The hope for the Lumberjacks is that the Habs’ fifth-rounder’s skating and explosive abilities fit with their organization a bit better.

“These are the types of players that will help build championships in Muskegon.. Pitlick is one of the most dynamic players in the United States Hockey League....” — Steve Lowe, President of Hockey Operations (Muskegonlumberjacks.com)

For Pitlick, this is a fresh start to his USHL season. His production wasn’t exactly subpar considering his team’s circumstances, but it seemed hard for him to get going. Things change inside the Lumberjacks’ system.

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