The 2019 Draft, once again, featured a heavy emphasis on defence and athletically talented prospects. After Cole Caufield fell into their lap in round one, the Canadiens used their second-round pick to draft a high-school defender named Jayden Struble. Based on the rankings at the time, it wasn’t a reach by any means but many assumed the Habs might add another offensive talent as opposed to a defender.
As it turned out, they added another offensive piece only this one operated on the defensive side of the puck as Struble loves to get up into plays to create chances and goals. His physical gifts allowed him to make an easier transition to the NCAA game, and while he has some wrinkles to smooth out, Struble has all the markings of a budding offensive defenceman.
Struble returns to Northeastern for his sophomore season where he’ll join fellow Habs prospect Jordan Harris as the Huskies look to improve upon last season’s middling record.
Offence is what Struble is known for, and there’s some context needed for his freshman-year numbers. He had just three goals and seven assists in 21 games, but with Northeastern’s struggles overall it’s not a bad freshman effort. Our prospect expert David St-Louis noted back in November that despite low point totals, Struble found ways to create great looks every single game and continued to improve throughout the year.
Jayden Struble has a lot to learn from college hockey, but his offensive confidence has not been diminished. Here he rushes through most of the defence for a scoring chance. pic.twitter.com/kiqzmUqS4j— David St-Louis (@RinksideView) November 4, 2019
Struble does not lack confidence in his offensive game and when the pucks started bouncing his way, he looked like a prospect that should have had more points than he did. He’s got a great shot and, unlike Harris, he’s not afraid to jump into higher danger areas in the offensive zone to create more chances.
Struble suffers from the same spotlight issue as Harris right now, since Alexander Romanov and Mattias Norlinder have grabbed the headlines. However, looking at the style Struble plays, he could easily become a delightful cross between both of them — a great offensive mind with a punishing physical game.
He’ll have a much more expanded role in the upcoming season for Northeastern, and will look to take his game to the next level now that he’s gotten a taste of the NCAA level. If he follows a curve similar to Harris he should see a great jump in production, perhaps even greater than his counterpart given his offensive bias.
The votes were all fairly unanimous for Struble, outside of Patrik who had him the highest at eighth overall. Everyone else had him as a mid-to-late teens selection, a fair spot for a prospect with Struble’s potential but lack of polish overall.
For myself, I really love how much Struble can bring to the table. He’s a hulking mass of a man on skates but moves well and loves to get involved offensively, something the Canadiens need more of in the future hence my vote for 14th overall.
Top 25 Under 25 History
This is Struble’s second year in the T25U25, rising five spots from his initial ranking last year. While he had his struggles, there’s a lot that is appealing to Canadiens fans and the management team after his freshman year. A call to join the United States World Juniors camp is a huge step forward for him and could easily see him rocket up the voting charts with a strong sophomore year.
History of #15
|2016||Jacob de la Rose|
The biggest standout for Struble is that he’s a very physically mature player already, possessing incredible strength and explosiveness. When the Canadiens picked him in 2019 it was noted that Struble led the NHL Combine in multiple fitness categories, and he’s using those physical gifts to great extent. As stated above, Struble is almost freakishly strong for someone his age and when he wants to make a hit the opponents feel the full wrath of it.
In the above clip, Struble recognizes the attack coming at him and with an explosive first step he closes off the attacking lane then buries the puck carrier against the boards. Physicality is something that has always been a huge part of Struble’s game. In high school he relished the chance create contact and use his gifts to overwhelm opponents. It translating to the next level is a great sign, as Struble was one of the youngest NCAA players last year, and physically had no issues with adjusting to the NCAA.
While he has all the hallmarks of a rough and tumble, defence-first defender, Struble thrives when he’s part of the offensive attack, even if he’s creating it from his own end of the ice. He’s an explosive skater, able to get up to top speed extremely quick, and weave through opposing defenders. His coaches trusted him enough in this regard to let him play through his growing pains, and encouraged his offensive creativity by giving him a solid dose of offensive zone and power-play time.
What makes Struble the most dangerous, however, is that he never stops looking for ways to improve his attacking lanes. He isn’t content to sit at the blue line and fire pucks on net. Instead, he uses his mobility to work the zone while looking for passing or shooting lanes. This is where he’s going to continue to make his money, as he always wants to improve his options which, in turn, leads to better chances and more goals.
Like so many young players, Struble’s greatest weakness comes in the mental aspects of the game. He suffers from some lapses in the defensive zone, sometimes seeming to zone out and appear disinterested. This more than likely related to his time in high school when Struble was far above the level of competition, and zoning out a bit could easily be covered by his natural talent. At the NCAA level you cannot do that, the players are much better and the competition much stiffer.
Part of it can be tied into Struble’s age. He’s still young by NCAA standards, and while already physically mature, the mental part of his game is something that needs to grow as he looks to reach the next level in his development.
Growing his mental game can also help with some of his on-ice decision making as he’s prone to misreading the situation and creating more problems for himself. While he assesses plays well inside the offensive zone, he needs to do better reading plays through the neutral zone and pick out better options going forward.
Jayden Struble might be one of the more underrated Habs prospects in their depth chart right now. He’s overshadowed by a pair of excellent European prospects on the defensive side of the puck, and ahead of him in the pros are also more established options. Yet, Struble combines so many tantalizing talents that he shouldn’t be flying under the radar like he has.
He’ll be back at Northeastern for a sophomore season alongside Harris and is also looking to make it onto Team USA for World Juniors this winter. He’s going to be a huge part of this year’s Huskies team but he’s going to be counted on to generate offence from the back end, and improve on his freshman year.
Struble has so many gifts already, but he has a bit to go in terms of polishing them into what will hopefully be a professional career. He can find plenty of success right now relying on his natural talent but to truly reach his potential as a player and prospect Struble needs to strive towards perfecting little bits of his game that can take him from good to great in short order.
He’s a physical freak of an athlete with a nose for the net in the offensive zone. Just how far he takes that is all reliant on his ability to smooth out his rough edges going forward.