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Catching The Torch: NCAA Big Ten and Central Division Report Cards — Jakub Dobeš, Rhett Pitlick, Jack Gorniak, and Arvid Henrikson

Grading the remaining Habs prospects’ regular season in the NCAA, and what to expect from them moving forward.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 29 Minnesota at Notre Dame Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back to Catching The Torch, where we keep an eye on the Montreal Canadiens’ North American prospects and how their development is progressing week by week.

As we wrap up the NCAA report cards with the Big Ten and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), this is where the prospect pool tends to drop off in depth, immediate yield, and quality. There are still some interesting options for the Habs playing in these two divisions, though they’re mostly long-term projects who might not see an NHL game before they develop for another four or five years.

We’ll go from best to worst in this piece, focusing on the higher-potential prospects first and working our way down the pecking order.

Jakub Dobeš, G — Ohio State University (Big Ten)

Season grade: A

Dobeš has exceeded all expectations in his NCAA rookie season, leading an Ohio State team that looks underwhelming on paper to a 21-12-2 record with him between the pipes. His .934 save percentage in those 35 matches sits third overall among goaltenders with more than 15 games played. Among under-21 goaltenders, only Northeastern’s Devon Levi (1.54 GAA, .952 Sv%) has had a better season than the Habs’ pick at 136th in 2020.

Aggressive, athletic and quick on his skates, Dobeš uses his stick efficiently when leaving his net, and especially when the play gets in tight and he needs to prevent cross-ice options. He poke-checks very well, doesn’t overcommit, and has the lower-body explosivity and flexibility to get across and make low one-timer saves look easier than they should be, but still gets beat up high due to his naturally low stance and inconsistent technique.

His strongest asset at the moment is his puck-tracking. Rarely does he lose sight of where the puck is, and he can anticipate the trajectory of a shot without much effort, even when multiple bodies separate him from the shooter. He keeps his eye on the carrier, but doesn’t hesitate to throw a glance across his shoulder to make sure he’s aware of back-door threats, and does a good job of picking his moments so he doesn’t get caught off-guard.

His backup netminder, Ryan Snowden, has only appeared in six games so far, which shows the confidence that Dobeš has earned from his coaches at Ohio State. He’s their runaway starter, and has been playing as such.

Individual skill categories ratings:

Athleticism: B+
Mobility: B
Stickwork: B+
Technique: C+
Puck-tracking: A
High-danger shots: B+
Low-danger shots: C+

Rhett Pitlick, LW — University of Minnesota (Big Ten)

Season grade: B-

Pitlick’s season was truly a two-part show; his first half didn’t go as well as his second half in the slightest. Through his first 17 games, the 5’9” forward had only earned seven assists. After that, he hit his stride and was able to put together a four-game point streak in which he doubled his season total with three goals and four assists. He finished the season with 18 points in 29 games, adding two goals and an assist in his final five games of the year.

There’s definitely a long-standing issue with offensive consistency in Pitlick’s case, as the freshman had shown similar bursts of production in the USHL prior to his NCAA debut. However, that’s where the consistency issues end. His effort level, his pace of play, and his defensive game are about as consistent as it gets.

Pitlick won’t wow you with inside-out moves and flashy dekes, but his game is built around a buzzsaw, waterbug style of hockey supported by terrific skating posture, and an above-average ability to set up plays and break up opposing shot attempts. He’ll win pucks back for his team at a decent rate, and although he is 21 years old, the fact that this is his first time matching up against college hockey players should be a factor when evaluating his lack of production.

I don’t think he’s the type of player to win a game by himself, but he could very well become a shorter, more dynamic version of his brother, Rem, bringing pace, intensity, defensive value, and the occasional shooting percentage bender to the table.

Individual skill categories ratings:

Skating: A
Stickhandling: B
Puck retrievals/receptions: B
Physicality: C-
Off-puck play: B
Passing: B-
Shooting: C+

Jack Gorniak, LW — University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

Season grade: C

Although the Wisconsin Badgers in general struggled massively to put together decent performances and especially score goals, you’d think a senior such as Gorniak would step up and pull his team up by the bootstraps on a night or two. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Gorniak finished fifth in team scoring with five goals and 10 assists in 37 games, and was outpaced by unaffiliated prospects such as Mathieu De St. Phalle, Tarek Baker, and Cole Caufield’s older brother, Brock.

In fact, his 15 points in 37 games match his freshman season totals to a T, aside from trading a goal for an assist. This seems like a case of plateauing for Gorniak, although the team he played with in 2018-19 was better-equipped than the one he’s on right now. Still, four years of development should make a much bigger difference than the talent level of those two Wisconsin teams.

Gorniak could potentially sign a one-year deal at the end of the season to try to prove that his decent skating, intense demeanour, and playmaking ability could translate well to the NHL, but the issues in his play-reading, decision-making, and defensive game could prove to be hard to fix at 22 years of age.

Individual skill categories ratings:

Skating: B
Stickhandling: C+
Puck retrievals/receptions: C+
Physicality: B-
Off-puck play: C-
Passing: B
Shooting: B-

Arvid Henrikson, LD — Lake Superior State University (CCHA)

Season grade: D

I’ll be honest: Henrikson has been hard to find games for online. However, from the three or four matches I’ve seen, there’s likely a spot in Europe available for the Habs’ seventh-round pick in 2016, and I’m not even sure it’ll be in a top league. He plays in a CCHA division that includes a total of seven NHL-affiliated prospects — to put that into context, that division holds eight teams — and he is the only one on his own club, yet he sits 17th overall on the Lakers for points with five assists in 35 games.

Despite being one of the oldest players on his team, Henrikson is still a second- or third-pair defenceman, mostly used in penalty-killing scenarios where his above-average size and reach serve a purpose. He isn’t the most aware of defenders, though, and whenever the pace ramps up and he needs to make reads, he can get lost in the play.

With 56 penalty minutes in those 35 games, Henrikson is the second-most penalized player on the squad, but not many of those are fighting majors. Minors, double-minors, and the occasional major penalty for an illegal hit figure among the most common reasons he’s been put in the sin bin.

He’s a good skater and plays hard and mean, but I don’t see how the Habs could justify using a contract slot on him, especially with the amount of draft picks Montreal has acquired for the next two drafts.

Individual skill categories ratings:

Skating: B
Stickhandling: C
Puck retrievals/receptions: D
Physicality: B
Off-puck play: D+
Passing: C-
Shooting: C

Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for more on the Habs’ prospects, and to keep up with the rest of my scouting work!