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.
Two years ago, Cayden Primeau made 38 stops en route to a first Northeastern Beanpot tournament win in 30 years. The next season, he saved 33 shots to help his team earn a second straight victory and his performance earned him the Eberly Award. The award is given to the top goaltender in the tournament on top of the title of MVP.
But in this year’s event, Primeau wasn’t able to steal the Huskies any games, so two other Habs’ prospects had to keep the team’s streak of success alive: Jordan Harris, returnee member of the 2019 team, and newcomer Jayden Struble, top NCAA blueliner in the making. They formed part of the backbone of a formation that continues to rely on strong defence to win championships.
Unfortunately, Struble injured himself in Northeastern’s regular season game against Maine University last Friday. He took part in the team’s 3-1 win over the Harvard’s Crimson in the first game of the Beanpot, but looked from the sidelines in the Beanpot Finals last Monday against Boston University.
Still, with a strong team performance, Northeastern managed to get away with a win in double-overtime. They were awarded a power play where Harris capitalized. He picked up the puck on the boards off a low-to-high play, walked the length of the point and fired from the mid-line of the ice. His shot grazed a couple of bodies, hit the netting and launched the celebration. Northeastern had the three-peat.
JORDAN HARRIS WINS THE BEANPOT FOR NORTHEASTERN pic.twitter.com/wSO1YquBHI— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 11, 2020
Simple, but effective, offensive tactics like this one have lead to consistent production for Harris this season.
Last year, the defenceman had a tendency to move a bit aimless in the offensive zone. He would exploit available space, but not create anything truly dangerous by skating around with his head down. Now, he gets to a good shooting position and aims his shot through traffic. It’s the kind of play that should bring him some offensive success in the tightly played professional game.
Northeastern’s identity shone through their Beanpot games. They are all about work ethic, winning races and battles to create offence. Their players aim to send the puck up the ice quickly in lob or stretch pass fashion to catch the opposition off guard, allowing them to compete for possession in the neutral or offensive zone at a safe distance from their own net, and often beat the defence before they can regroup.
It’s a system that their defencemen have come to instinctively execute: shutdown and rapid transitions.
That being said, this strategy can also put more stress on the blueliners if they want to find good options in transitions. Supporting forwards are often higher than with other formations; they don’t act as an immediate relief from forechecking pressure. It’s then the duties of Northeastern’s rear guard to escape at least the first opponent sent to steal the puck from them. The defencemen have to beat that pressure to turn and get their skates up ice, in order to survey passing lanes towards escaping forwards.
Harris has developed his ability to attract the forecheck on himself. On breakouts, he often drags two opponents at a time towards him to free his fellow defensive partner, or one of his forwards up the ice for a pass. It helps facilitate the transition of the team.
Struble was not yet there in his short passing game, but there were some flashes that showed he will be able to do the same given appropriate recovery and some development time. This season, his game was mostly about grander displays of puck moving — either he carried the puck up the ice himself, piercing through the defence to reach the offensive zone, or he looked for the cross-ice pass in breakout regroups.
This second type of play is how he picked up his point against Harvard at the start of February.
Improving his awareness would lead to an even greater impact in the transition side of the game.
He is gifted with tools that most other defencemen in the NCAA can’t match; he is rock-solid on his skates, can accelerate past most opponents and, when he does pick up speed and attack the neutral-zone, he becomes very hard to stop due to his ability to adjust his course quickly.
That being said, he sometimes doesn’t recognize the pressure he will face when he picks up the puck low in his zone. Or, he identifies a first forechecker — that he promptly beats — but misses a second one sent on an interception course.
Struble would make life easier on himself if he continuously gathered information on his surroundings. He would be prepared to hit a teammate with a pass coming out from below the goal line or dangle around a second forechecker.
It had been exciting to watch Struble improve rapidly week to week in the first half of the season. Now, we can only hope that this injury, his second of the season, won’t impair his continued rise in the rear-guard of Northeastern.
Struble’s absence will leave a significant hole in the team’s offence; the dynamic presence of the defenceman had lead to at least a goal per weekend for the team recently. For the time he is out, Harris will have to help fill this role for the team. He can’t replace Struble’s boldness, but his efficient, high-percentage play approach in the offensive zone should continue to help Northeastern score some clutch goals.
CHL Weekly performances
|Jacob LeGuerrier||2019||LD||OHL||Sault Ste Marie||2||0||0||0|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Everett Silvertips||3||1||1||2|
|Gianni Fairbrother||2019||LD||WHL||Everett Silvertips||Injured|
|Kieran Ruscheinski||2019||LD||BCHL||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||4||0||1||1|
CHL Season to date
|Jacob LeGuerrier||2019||LD||OHL||Sault Ste Marie||60||6||25||31|
|Cole Fonstad||2018||LW||WHL||Everett Silvertips||60||15||59||74|
|Gianni Fairbrother||2019||LD||WHL||Everett Silvertips||37||5||20||25|
|Kieran Ruscheinski||2019||LD||BCHL||Salmon Arm Silverbacks||36||0||6||6|
NCAA/USHL Weekly performances
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||2||0||0||0|
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||2||0||0||0|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||Injured|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||2||0||0||0|
NCAA Season to date
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||28||2||5||7|
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||36||19||17||36|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||21||3||7||10|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||33||3||18||21|