Jacob de la Rose played fewer games in the NHL last season than in his previous two, but that might have been best for the 23-year-old’s development.
He had an impressive resume before moving to North America. The 34th-overall pick in 2013 played in three World Junior Championships for Sweden, captaining the team in his final year and finishing with the silver medal twice. He also played in the Swedish Elite League as an 18-year-old and was able to hold his own against professional players.
After his first pro season in Sweden, de la Rose moved overseas and attempted to make the NHL full-time. Unfortunately, his reputation for defensive play followed him into Michel Therrien’s system and the former Montreal Canadiens head coach decided to test it immediately. De la Rose played 33 games in the NHL during the 2014-15 season, starting 64.7% of his draws in the defensive zone.
In his three seasons under Therrien, he faced an unreasonable 70.4 defensive-zone-start percentage and sported a -7.6 relative Corsi-for percentage as a result.
It’s fair to say the 6'3” centre has not yet had the right NHL usage, but he has not helped himself in the chances he did get. He isn’t known for offence, but posting a measly seven points in 64 games isn’t enough to earn an NHL roster spot, even for the defensively elite.
Last year de la Rose was finally tasked with a suitable deployment in the AHL. He took a primary defensive role for the IceCaps beside captain Max Friberg and was able to finish fourth on the team in points behind the big three offensive weapons: Chris Terry, Charles Hudon, and Nikita Scherbak. De la Rose had a strong end to his season, posting 14 points in the final 20 regular-season games and another three in four playoff outings.
The Swede needed a big boost in confidence after his initial struggles in Montreal and he may have found some of that with his performance. His late-season push was rewarded on June 28 with a new one-year contract.
Voting for de la Rose was mostly consistent. Sixteen of the 20 votes landed between 7 and 13. A couple of votes at 21 caused the Swede to finish with an average adjusted vote of 11.95. He is the last player in the countdown to finish with an average placement above 10.
Top 25 Under 25 History
De la Rose’s history in T25U25 is one of peaks and valleys. Thanks to an impressive junior career there was initially a lot of confidence in his potential. From 2013 to 2015, de la Rose climbed from 17 to 6.
However, showing few signs of NHL ability when he got a chance, and having other prospects surpass him on the depth chart, he slipped to 15th after his second full year in North America.
In his draft year, de la Rose was touted for his work ethic, compatibility with teammates, and strong two-way play. These traits still remain in his game today.
He has developed into an explosive skater and has a strong pivot, allowing him to quickly make up ground on the backcheck or redirect himself for good body positioning on the forecheck. He makes good judgments on opponents’ movements and is able to close gaps.
An advanced understanding of defensive-zone coverage is his main attribute. He received top penalty-killing minutes with St. John’s last season, where he was able to use his speed and anticipation to score a league-high four short-handed goals — one more than the team had total in 2015-16.
There is no denying he struggles to finish scoring plays in most other situations, and he doesn’t have the most impressive passing ability, but he is able to find the dangerous areas of the ice to get himself in scoring position.
He is a little slow to release the puck but he has a hard shot when he decides to let it go. If he can gain confidence from his late-season offensive surge he may be able to lose some of the indecisiveness he has developed on offence and contribute on the scoreboard more frequently.
That lack of production is the main question mark surrounding de la Rose’s game, as he has had a difficult time converting his strong underlying abilities into offence. He has only accumulated 0.11 points per game in the NHL to go along with 0.42 points per game in the AHL. He showed signs of improvement in a more defined role this season, but at 23 years of age we should not expect major jumps in his offensive production.
Although his reputation is one of a strong defensive player, de la Rose’s career 42.7% shot-attempts-for percentage suggests that he hasn’t been able to move the puck out of the defensive zone with enough efficiency to be relied on as a primary shutdown player. In today's NHL half the defensive work is keeping the puck out of your own end, and he will need to prove he can help the team in that area to be given a legitimate shot.
His AHL numbers also don’t point to especially strong goal prevention as he has a -2.74 relative goals-for percentage, which is not something you want from a shutdown option.
The 2017-18 season could be a critical one for de la Rose. There isn’t a lot of space for the 23-year-old in the lineup, but with the strong finish last year and a new head coach in Montreal, he may be able to carry that momentum and challenge for a spot on the Habs’ roster. All things considered, he projects to play no higher than a third-line energy role who can check secondary offensive options.
He now requires waivers to be sent down to the minors, but the one-way deal he received may prevent teams from taking a chance on an unproven prospect. You should expect him to start the season with the Laval Rocket and be one of the Canadiens’ first call-ups. It will then be up to him to prove whether he is part of the solution moving forward or just another depth piece.
With just a one-year extension for a young player, and a former early second-round pick no less, the Canadiens appear to have indicated that his future with the organization isn’t guaranteed. It will an important season for Jacob de la Rose to put all his skills together and show that he has what it takes to play in the NHL.
Stats via Hockey Reference