The Montreal Canadiens left no stone unturned in their 2018 NHL Draft, selecting two prospects out of the US High School leagues in Jordan Harris and Jack Gorniak, betting on their paths through the NCAA and the league’s capabilities for development.
It is assumed that those players are a bit behind the curve compared to other 2018 draftees due to the less-competitive environment they played in. But the advantage of those picks is that the Habs will retain their rights longer than comparable prospects playing in the CHL, who only have two seasons to show enough before a decision needs to be made on an entry-level contract.
If you can identify some great tools in a high school player’s game, you know that you will get a chance to see them evolve and mature. Gorniak’s skating is this kind of standout ability that makes him a good project to take on.
He looked like a rocket on the ice last season, especially against the competition he faced. It was almost unfair how dominant the Habs’ fourth-round pick could be due to this skill.
It is not necessarily straight-line speed that characterizes Gorniak. He is a speedy attacker, but it’s the way he is constantly able to accelerate around opponents or be on top of them in a second with his fast-moving feet and through the usage of crossovers.
He can explode on the forecheck to disrupt the opposition’s attempts at getting control of the puck, steal possession on the backcheck, and separate himself from opponents as he pushes the play up from zone to zone, showing the multiple gears he has against his pursuers and flying wide past defencemen.
Gorniak is a player to watch not only with the puck, but away from it, too.
Jack Gorniak is #11 in black for West Salem.
It isn’t only footspeed and technique that give him his great ability to move on the ice. There is likely room for him to still improve his forward strides, which is a scary thought. No, he seems inhabited with a will to never get beaten by anyone if he can do something about it, and this desire gives him the last couple of steps he needs to catch up to any play.
Go around him and you will hear the sound of his skates on the ice getting louder as he uses his last ounce of energy to make sure you don’t get away with his puck. Play too closely against him, and you will hear those same sounds circling around you in a hurry to put the puck in your net.
It’s this spirit that drives Gorniak’s game, and it is another reason why he scored so many points in his league this season.
This play is a good example of the aforementioned qualities of the forward:
His escape from the corner of the defensive zone with the puck would not have been successful without a second effort. He evaded pressure while enduring a couple of crosschecks and ultimately pushed the puck and himself to open ice by gaining body positioning on the last forechecker, knocking him down while displaying great balance to stay on his own skates.
Gorniak, after advancing through the neutral zone, then benefited from the defenceman’s positioning at the offensive blue line by faking going wide — a move the opponent followed a bit too closely — and, as a result, dragged him outside of the dots. The forward immediately used this opportunity to cut inside with a cross-over and attack the middle of the ice. He pulled a move against the last remaining defender and got a shot on net while falling down from an uncalled trip.
It’s clear that the skill level of Gorniak was way above most of his peers last season. He beat four players single-handely in that sequence, one after the other. It’s clear he is a talented forward who is able to create chances for himself.
Despite what his offensive numbers seems to say, the new Habs prospect doesn’t have high-end offensive tools, like great hands or vision. Being one step ahead of everyone else, both in anticipation and with the use of his skating ability, did a lot for him up to this point. He was able to chase the play and his opportunities in ways that he won’t be able to replicate in the NCAA next year for the most part.
He also won’t get the same space, and both the goalies and the defenders will be more imposing, mobile, better at their craft and at playing against his speed.
For this reason, it will be an adjustment period for Gorniak with the University of Wisconsin, and it will probably take time for him to find ways to have a good offensive impact. He will also need to get stronger to match the opponents he will face.
But his work ethic could have him improve faster than expected. It could also make him a pretty useful as a North-South type of player for the Badgers, and he could earn his fair share of minutes if he strives to maintain a continuously attentive and patient defensive game, using his quickness to jump on loose pucks and the right opportunities to cause turnovers.
This will be another challenge for Gorniak, who sometimes adheres to an all-in approach, but something that could be very achievable in his first year.
Right now, the NHL is a very distant goal for him, but the organization made a good bet on a great athlete, which the top league in the world is fully comprised of.
Gorniak finished in the top 10 in a lot of tests at the NHL combine, mostly in the exercises that had to do with agility, explosiveness, and leg power. This explains his great skating ability and his quickness on the ice. Those are the things he will be able to rely on to push his game to the next level.
With Wisconsin, he will be joining a new core of player including fellow 2018 NHL draftees Sampo Ranta, K’Andre Miller and Ty Emberson. It will be great experience to grow his game along with those new players, transforming the Badgers into a feared team in the Big Ten Conference.
More Jack Gorniak highlights from this season.