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Catching The Torch: Jayden Struble is progressing rapidly at Northeastern

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The defenceman is closing the gap to fellow Habs prospect Jordan Harris as the most effective blue-liner on the 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 Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

The Northeastern back end must be the source of much scrutiny from the Habs organization. The team’s defensive core of Jayden Struble and Jordan Harris also represents two of the most promising future defencemen of the organization. They each bring their own elements to their team. If Harris had the edge of experience in this first half of the season, Struble’s rapid progression will likely continue erasing the gap. It’s likely the duo will be equally effective from the blue line after the Christmas break.

Even if their styles are in opposition — by nature Struble is much more offensive, and Harris more of a defensive pillar — they each fit the Northeastern identity.

The team asks its defencemen to continuously support the attack, to jump up into the rush and into the offensive zone. The goal is to outnumber the opposition when the team moves through the neutral zone in the goal of skating across the far blue line with control of the puck.

Fast execution is paramount. Defencemen need an up-ice mentality. As soon as the puck switches back to the hands of a teammate, they go.

Jayden Struble wears #3 and Jordan Harris #2 with Northeastern.

There were plenty of examples of Struble and Harris moving up with the rush in the last few games. They weren’t all successful but still show the abilities of both prospects to transform defence into offence.

Struble got a great chance out of it (the first clip in the video). He was just a few steps behind his forward group and arrived in time in the opposing end to capitalize on defensive chaos. The puck sat loose in front of the crease and Struble unsuccessfully tried to thread it through multiple bodies.

Hard strides or skating at full speed is very important when supporting the rush — even moreso when leading it. With the way the defensive coverage rotates, it’s not hard for defencemen to find themselves at the top of their zone. It can lead them be the main puck-carriers off the rush, or the player pushing back the defence and driving the net to create space for others.

For Northeastern, all roles in offensive rushes are interchangeable. This strategy is hardly revolutionary; most college and professional teams employ it. But it feels like it’s an even bigger part of the Huskies’ offensive schemes. Maybe it’s because they want to rely on their back end to generate offence with few star forwards outside of Tyler Madden.

Struble will prove to be an especially great asset for them as he gets more and more comfortable. He is a great technical skater, achieving almost optimal knee-bend and keeping his back straight but angled forward. He even seems to pay extra attention to the back and forth dance of his arms to not reduce his momentum. His sound technique combined with his superior strength gives him the speed to continuously beat defenders up the ice.

Thanks to his tools and his offensive mentality, it was almost inevitable that pucks would start to go in more often while Struble was on the ice. He now has five points in his last six games.

Some of it his newfound production was just things finally bouncing his way on the ice, but also him finally getting rewarded for his rushes and offensive presence. His goal against Colgate University was a good example of him sensing a chance to move down to support the offensive formation. He picked up a pass in stride to rifle it past the goalie.

He has started to show some of the moves that gave him success on the power play in his high-school years. This sequence from last year, where he used the threat of his shot to open a pass across,, and then managed the opposite a second later comes to mind. His explosiveness allowed him to separate from defenders easily after his fakes.

His execution of those same fakes has made defenders hesitate and opened up better shooting lanes from the point in his last few games. The second one in the video below was especially effective. He held the puck for a shot, going forehand-backhand, and an opponent just went sliding across the ice in hopes of blocking a shot that wouldn’t come.

There is no high-end creativity in Struble’s offensive game. There wasn’t at previous levels either, so it’s not really something to expect. He will likely continue to pick up points through his poise, mobility, and power on the blue line, especially through hard, well-set-up blasts from the point. He doesn’t waste shots and looks to send the puck to high-danger areas if he can’t attempt to score himself.

While this recipe might not have him challenge for the lead in points in Northeastern, it’s one that could translate to the pro game with some refinement.

One last fun clip from Struble: this collision with an opponent as he skated though the opposing slot. He changed direction slightly and accidentally rammed an opponent coming behind him. The opposing player slammed on the ice, while the hit only brought Struble slightly off balance, despite standing on only one leg before the shock. The defencemen continues to show he is a moving brick wall.

He didn’t get an invite to the World Junior Championship this year, but it wasn’t unexpected. Struble is extremely young; his September 8 birthday meant that he was one of the youngest players to enter the NHL Draft. He will get his chance next year as a 19-year-old with a full year of NCAA hockey and a summer of training camp under his belt, something he didn’t have this year. He missed the U.S program’s summer showcase because of an injury sustained in Canadiens rookie camp. It probably didn’t help his chance to make the U20 team, especially after not being a part of the U.S. National Team Development Program, and this injury also likely contributed to his slow start.

Now, he he has his feet back under him, and seems poised for a big second half of the season.

Catching the Torch will be back in January after the end of CHL and NCAA Christmas break.

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