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Catching The Torch: Cole Fonstad earns WHL Player of the Week honours

The week also saw Jordan Harris and Cayden Primeau play big parts in Norteastern’s second consecutive Beanpot victory.

Robert Murray/WHL

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 (NCAA) level.

Cole Fonstad scored eight points, including five goals, in three games last week. For his performance, he was named the WHL Player of the Week.

The Habs’ fifth-rounder of 2018 is not the biggest player, nor the fastest, but placed with bigger threats like his usual linemate Noah Gregor and Brett Leason, with whom he spent some time in the past few games, he can create offensive chance after offensive chance in the space he is afforded.

The prospect sees the game well, can make defenders miss, has a good shot, and is deceptive, which means, given the chance, he can produce in a variety of ways — exactly what he showcased this week.

Circling the offensive zone, he beat the goalie cleanly with a couple of releases from the slot, found his teammate coming from behind the net, and, sneaking behind the defence to make himself a pass option, he redirected precise passes into empty cages.

One of the main reasons for Fonstad’s recent increase in production is that he has worked his way back to the top two lines after being buried down the lineup. Is his play picking back up, or is the coach deciding to rely on him more? Likely a bit of both. Since being moved, there can be no complaints about his play from the Raiders’ staff. He is now a key piece in the Prince Albert Raiders’ playoff run.

With 45 point in his last 30 games, he has been on a tear and has now broken the point-per-game mark. He continues to distance himself from it with each passing week as he improves in his point pace. It would mean a production sufficient to finish among the leagues’ top scorers if it had been maintained throughout the entire season.

Cayden Primeau, Northeastern Huskies, G

The Northeastern Huskies are repeat champions of the Beanpot Tournament. The long-standing event, where all four NCAA Division I programs in the Boston area are opposed, was not won for years by the Huskies before the arrival of Cayden Primeau in the organization. Northeastern had a strong team last year, but their goalie, now two-time winner of the Eberly Award given to the top goaltender of the tournament, was the missing piece needed to push them to a victory.

Primeau’s performance in 2019 rivaled that of last season’s. He stopped 27 out of 28 shots (.963) in his first game against Boston University last week, and in the final saved 35 out of 37 shots (.943).

After taking a 3-0 lead over BU, Primeau saw his team’s lead slowly evaporate. The opposition scored two goals back-to-back to close the lead down to one goal. If the game was dragged out to overtime, anything could happen; Boston University knew this and didn’t let Northeastern breathe for a second late in the third period.

But Primeau stood tall, as he usually does in high-pressure situations. He has proven that he is a goalie of great moments who can elevate his game when the situation becomes critical.

Showing solid positioning, great agility, and athleticism, the Habs goalie saved puck after puck. He even launched himself to accomplish a desperation save when a point shot bounced off the back boards right to the stick of an opponent. The cage was empty, and all the opposing forward had to do was slide it in. But Primeau fights and never gives up on a potential save.

He extended his stick and his whole body behind it, and got just enough of the puck to have it deflect wide. The move left everyone else on the ice incredulous, and cemented Northeastern’s victory.

For his performance, Primeau was also named tournament MVP.

This season, the seventh-rounder-turned-top-prospect has not had the same crazy numbers as last year. He has a solid .922 save percentage, but it’s a few decimal points below the .931 he finished 2017-18 with.

That being said, what he is doing now is arguably more impressive than last year. He doesn’t have the same team in front of him. A few players have left the Huskies in the off-season, including Hobey Baker-winner Adam Gaudette. Primeau is playing behind a young defence, and with less offensive support. Yet he still keeps winning in memorable ways.

Goalies are not a sure thing until they reach the NHL, but the netminder is inspiring a lot of confidence in the teams he backstops, and showing the promise of having what it takes to make an impact in the big leagues.

Jordan Harris, RD/LD, Northeastern Huskies

Speaking of young defence, Jordan Harris also had a pretty good tournament. He picked up an assist in the final, but his best game was probably the first one, where he was involved both defensively and offensively.

He has many tools to work with: he is very mobile and can handle the puck. He also doesn’t lack confidence, has the desire to advance the play in controlled ways, and can be impactful offensively. What makes him the definition of a raw prospect is that he seems to always be a half-second or a shoulder check away from turning good plays into great ones.

Here are a few examples of plays that could have turned into more with just a bit more awareness or speed of execution.

Playing on his off-side is a challenge, and can partly explain why he is sometimes limited. He has his back to the play more often as a left-handed defenceman slotted on the right side. He does get his chance to play his natural position a bit during games, but for a good part of the season he has been supporting Jeremy Davies — another lefty.

Harris is very young for the NCAA, just turning 18 in July. With experience, and growth, we should see him evolve into an exciting player, one who is more aware of his options, tighter defensively, who executes faster plays, makes better use of his shots, and uses his skating to jump into the play, not unlike Davies routinely does.

Davies is still eligible for a senior season, but the New Jersey Devils, who drafted him in the seventh round, will likely make a play for him as they need help on their back end. It’s possible that Harris becomes one of the top defenders for Northeastern as soon as next year, in a role where he could be the one pushing the pace of the attack, and not forced to support and cover for his partner’s tendencies to do so.

Here’s a glimpse of what we should hopefully see consistently in the future from Harris.

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

*Up-to-date as of midnight yesterday.

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL BLB / ROU 53 33 30 63
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 49 13 16 29
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 33 10 12 22
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 49 26 27 53
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL OS / GUE 45 27 35 62
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 55 26 34 60
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle 26 5 12 17
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 50 9 29 38
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 43 13 42 55

NCAA season to date

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 28 3 7 10
Brett Stapley 2018 C WCHA Denver 23 6 12 18
Ryan Poehling 2017 C NCHC St. Cloud State 26 5 20 25
Nikolas Koberstein 2014 RD WCHA Alaska-Fairbanks 27 0 10 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 26 1 8 9

Cayden Primeau’s season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Cayden Primeau 2017 NCAA Northeastern 15-8-2 2.30 0.922 3