When looking at the future of the Montreal Canadiens defence corps, the names Alexander Romanov and Mattias Norlinder are right at the forefront. Behind them are a pair of defenders currently developing in the NCAA with Northeastern University, Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble.
Despite both playing in the same program, that’s where the majority of their similarities end. They face very different roads to an NHL career. Struble’s athleticism and penchant for aggressive, physical play give him a massive ceiling, but some of his reads and decision-making need fine-tuning. Harris, on the other hand, plays a safe brand of hockey that involves minimizing risk and using simple plays to manage the game.
They’re very different players, but equally effective in their approach. So how can the Canadiens leverage two opposite style players into future success? To answer that, we have to take a peek at what drives each of these prospects to be at their best, starting with reigning Hockey East player of the week Jordan Harris.
In two games for the Huskies last week, Harris tallied two goals and three assists while sporting an ‘A’ on his sweater for Northeastern.
JOZEFEK— Northeastern Men’s Hockey (@GoNUmhockey) December 13, 2020
Harris finds Jozefek right on the side of the net on the PP, what a pass, McDonough also with a helper, first goal of the season for Jozefek
NU 6/11 on the PP this season
2nd | 2-2#HowlinHuskies pic.twitter.com/zxzDbj3RfQ
His offensive outburst is another step forward in his development at the NCAA level, and as we noted in his Top 25 Under 25 profile, this was a crucial area for him to target this year.
He needed to add some elements of deception to his offensive attack, and thanks to him utilizing his agility more he’s done just that now. He’s attacking in new areas, and using that space he opens up to find teammates or better shooting lanes for himself on the power play, slowly becoming a true quarterback for Northeastern.
The added offence is a huge layer to add to his game, as he possesses outstanding mobility on the ice, and with that in his pocket he can continue to grow as an attacking threat. His biggest strength still lies in his defensive play, and his ability to always make the right play, even if that means choosing the simplest option.
He’ll more than likely make it to the big stage by being a safe, reliable option in the lineup for an NHL team. There’s nothing wrong with that; steady defenders are a coach’s dream since they can be used anywhere in their lineup and provide a consistent performance, and that description fits Harris like a glove. He’s not the flashiest player, but he is always there to act as the safety valve for his team when he’s on the ice.
While Harris is the calm, steady defender, Struble is controlled chaos when he’s on the ice. He’s incredibly mobile despite a massive build and relishes in the physical aspects of the game. Harris might have upped the aggression he shows in the offensive zone, but Struble remains miles ahead of him, loving to carry the puck in and getting deep in the zone to help make things happen.
Struble only had the secondary assist on the goal, but he set the whole play in motion by jumping up to attack the puck-carrier in the neutral zone, eventually stealing the puck from him. It’s a huge risk because if he can’t get the puck there’s an attacking forward at the Northeastern blue line standing open, with just one defender back to cover.
These are the types of plays that are going to propel Struble toward an NHL career in the future, however. He has incredible physical gifts and combines them with an attacking mindset, similar to that of P.K. Subban — for better and for worse. The aggression is something that plays well in the modern NHL, where speed and taking risks are paramount to making a true impact every night.
That style of play does lend itself to some potential issues, as we’ve seen in the past with the Canadiens. It’s great to take a chance at a risky play, and if it pays off, even better. If it doesn’t, your team is likely down a goal, and you draw the ire of the coaching staff. Struble possesses all the gifts to be a dynamic, offensive-minded defenceman at the next level, and if he can mature in the mental aspects of the game (fewer penalties namely), he could be a cornerstone on the blue line for a long time.
Struble is the new age of firewagon hockey. He plays hard, aggressive, and up-tempo every single night. He wants to be in every play trying to make something happen, whether he has the puck or not. His offensively inclined nature and physical talents will steer him towards a professional career.
It’s fun to look at the Northeastern defence, see two Habs prospects, and realize they’re both likely NHL-quality players, but for drastically different reasons. Both play on the left side, so seeing them paired together is not a likely thing, but their styles of play have the potential for incredible synergy.
They’re the fire and ice for Northeastern’s defence this year, and Habs fans would do well to keep an extremely close eye on them, Their developments paths are different right now, but they both lead to the same destination.