Expectations were high for Jake Evans entering his first professional season. The forward had just come off of a great season with the University of Notre Dame, where he went from seventh-round pick to a prospect with NHL potential.
But Evans didn’t even make it out of rookie camp. An unfortunate hit with a scary result saw him laid out on the ice at Place Bell and sidelined Evans for the entirety of would have been his first NHL training camp.
Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of birth: June 2, 1996
Drafted: 2014 (207th overall)
Weight: 186 lbs.
Team: Laval Rocket (AHL)
Evans ended up being ready for the start of the American Hockey League regular season, where he spent the entire year with the Laval Rocket. He made the adjustment to professional hockey well, and earned the trust of Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard throughout the year.
Despite being a rookie, he ended up second on the team in scoring, and was tied for 10th in the AHL rookie scoring race with 13 goals and 32 assists in 67 games. He was, for most of the season, tasked with being the Rocket’s number one centre due to injuries, promotions to the NHL, and trades.
It was rare for Evans to not be tasked with talking to the media after games. A leader at the University of Notre Dame, where he was the captain in his final season, he was always there to answer the call win or lose.
All of the panelists had Evans within the top-20, where two people had him. The high-end saw Julian with him at 10, and four panelists had him at 12. He is the first player in the ranking where all panelists had him within the top 25.
What is also noteworthy is there is a noticeable gap between Evans, who finished 15th and the rest of the field. The gap between Evans and 16th-ranked Mattias Norlinder was almost five points. There was more spread between 15th and 16th in our rankings than between 16th and the tie for 20th.
Evans definitely kicks off the upper echelon of the ranking.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Evans’s rise from 35th to 12th in the ranking is tied for the highest in EOTP’s Top 25 Under 25’s history. The seventh-round pick’s rise through the rankings is remarkable and although he goes down in the ranking for the first time, that says more about the depth of the organization than anything about Evans himself.
History of #15
|2016||Jacob de la Rose|
Evans was undeniably one of the best parts of the Rocket last season. Joël Bouchard’s team had a lot of bumps in the road, especially with their forward depth but Evans was always a bright spot.
His season started off slow with only one goal and one assist through his first eight games, but then seemed to gain confidence as the year went on. That uptick happened in late October and by November, he took his first stint as the team’s number one centre.
What was evident throughout the year was Evans’ offensive instincts. He was always able to either make a good pass or take a good shot despite being the focus of the opponents as the team’s top centre.
The Rocket were fantastic last night, but the highlight of the night has to be Jake Evans setting up Nikita Jevpalovs' goal while falling down. pic.twitter.com/0zeQ1O9m38— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 13, 2018
He’s known more for his playmaking ability, but if teams back off of him, he proved he has a shot that can play well at the professional level.
Jake Evans shows great patience as he scores his eighth goal of the year in Toronto. pic.twitter.com/l17xnNGoUn— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 9, 2018
Evans wasn’t just relied on offensively. He was also showed his strong all-around game. Being a number one centre is more than just putting the puck in the net, and he was able to prove he can play in his own end. He was among the better forwards when factoring in both his ability to score while stopping the opponent from doing the same.
While Evans performed well in his first season, he wasn’t dynamic to the point that he projects to be an offensive force at the next level. While he did get stronger as the year went on, the team struggled to score goals. That says more about the team itself than it does about Evans, but there have to be questions as to what he can be at the NHL level.
There is going to be more depth among Rocket forwards this year, and where Evans fits into that will be a question. He’s not as good offensively as guys like Phil Varone, Riley Barber, or if Ryan Poehling or Nick Suzuki start in the AHL. And defensively, he falls behind Lukas Vejdemo. Evans did have a short-handed goal but was not relied on in that role.
In reality this season could be an AHL version of the challenges Evans will face as he tries to make the NHL.
Despite Evans entering his second professional season, it will be interesting to see how he fits in with the NHL team. He wasn’t available for training camp last year due to his concussion suffered in the rookie tournament.
He is a bit of a forgotten man in the shuffle of Canadiens prospects. There was a time when he was the hope to end the lack of centres in the organization but the emergence of Ryan Poehling, plus the additions of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki have both lessened the pressure on Evans succeeding and pushed him down the depth chart.
Offensive skill doesn’t go away and Evans has those instincts. He also has the ability to play defensively. That bodes well for him and makes the potential for him to jump to the NHL higher since he isn’t an all-or-nothing offensive talent. A good performance in training camp against NHL players, and a strong start to the AHL season could put him in line to make his NHL debut this year.
Overall, Evans projects to have the upside of a middle-six centre in the NHL but the question is which players he needs to pass to make that a reality. For now, he needs to focus on the tasks that are placed ahead of him.