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Catching The Torch: Jayden Struble continues to make an impression

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Elsewhere in the NCAA, Brett Stapley is up to the point-per-game mark with his undefeated Denver Pioneers.

NHL: JUN 26 Montreal Canadiens Development Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via 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.

Jayden Struble has been one of the most exciting prospects to watch in this start to the season. Every one of his shifts is an adventure.

Struble’s superior skill level (even compared to his now college opposition), sky-high confidence, and the incredible rawness of his game often makes him the focal point of the action. Every game feels important as the defenceman continues to take steps forward in his development and figuring out exactly how he can best use his talents.

On Friday, Struble earned himself some power-play time. He was sent out on the ice alongside Jordan Harris with the second wave. The pairing didn’t create many scoring chances, but just the fact that the coaching staff tested him out there on a man advantage says something about the offensive punch the Habs second-rounder can bring.

Struble’s deployment contrasts with Harris’s freshman year. Circumstances are different for Northeastern this season, but Harris still had to wait a full year before getting some time on one of the units. It didn’t matter that he was the main quarterback of Kimball’s Union High School’s offence before joining the Huskies, or that he possessed the necessary skill to distribute the puck and find shooting lanes.

His best offensive look came in the third period. The Huskies were down a few goals and the prospect decided to take matters into his own hands to get his team back in the game. Right after a line change, he picked up the puck in his end and circled the net to pick up some speed. Head up, he scanned the opposing defensive formation — then went to work.

He attacked the neutral zone between the dots, forcing a defender to move laterally to mid-ice to match the rush. As soon as the opponent committed to his change of direction, Struble exploded in the other, moving to the outside lane. His speed took him ahead of a second defender and he evaded a last desperate poke check from the remaining defender, sliding the puck under the stick before firing high, barely missing the top of the net.

The defence was probably caught a bit off guard by this display. First, it came from a defenceman, and second, one in his first few days in the NCAA.

The scouting reports probably didn’t say much about Struble’s boldness, but that will certainly change after the first couple months of the season. The Habs prospect has a tendency of making lasting impressions.

He had another rush in his game against UMass in the first period.

He started the sequence by sliding a pass in between an opponents leg to exit the zone, then jumped up to support the breakout. The puck deflected back to him and he took it all the way to the offensive zone, releasing as he got to its mid-point.

Struble still has to correct a lot of his reads away from the puck and be more comfortable switching assignments as the play moves in zone in general. Currently, there is no use to really dissect his defensive shifts as the mistakes he makes will likely slowly correct themselves as he plays more and more games and practices with the team.

His man-to-man and close quarter defence has already been positive. Struble’s physical strength is ahead of his years — he finished first in a few physical categories at the draft combine — and he can neutralize college players years his elder quite easily already.

In the sequence below, Struble follows an opponent down his zone, keeping his stick on the puck and plasters him to the boards. The puck springs loose and his defensive partner takes it up the ice.

Harris also had a pretty good showing against UMass despite the game ending up as a loss for the whole of Northeastern. He is now up to seven points in eight games, five ahead of all other blue-liners on the Huskies.

Harris has made the most of the opportunities given to him. He keeps his offensive game simple, using his quick and agile feet to find shooting lanes. One noticeable change from last year is that he now often looks for the stick of his teammates as he sends pucks to the net.

Brett Stapley, C, Denver Pioneers

The Denver Pioneers are undefeated. They throne over all other NCAA formations in the weekly power rankings. The Pioneers added a new talent this year in Bobby Brink, a Philadelphia Flyers second-rounder, and the return of Ian Mitchell (Chicago Blackhawks) gave them a great boost.

But part of the the recipe for the success is their depth. Brett Stapley is up to the point-per-game mark, mirroring his great start from his freshman year. He scored four points in Denvers pair of wins against Niagara last weekend.

The seventh rounder showed his usual poise and deception in possession, putting pressure on the defence by holding on to the puck, not revealing his next move. Stapley then sprung into action to feed passes to teammates once the opposing sticks were out of the way.

He is a playmaker at heart, but when the defence gave him a ton of space in the slot on the second game of the weekend, he scored with a hard, precise release that flew past the goalie to hit the top of the net.

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