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2021 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #11 Jayden Struble

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The NCAA defender gains some ground in this year’s rankings.

Northeastern v Massachusetts-Lowell Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

It’s not often that you hear the Montreal Canadiens call the name of an American high-school player during the NHL Draft. They went there in 2019, with the selection of combine standout Jayden Struble in the second round.

Struble’s performances at that prospect evaluation shot him up draft boards. He finished first in five of 18 fitness tests, showing some elite athleticism that made him an interesting project for a team to take on. The Canadiens struck first at 46th overall.

The concern with Struble coming out of the draft was that he was quite raw. High-school hockey was too easy for him, and some wondered whether the toolkit that put him so far above his peers would serve him as easily against tougher competition.

Elite Prospects

His first season with Northeastern University in the NCAA was eye-opening, as he showed quite a bit more polish than expected. He chipped in 10 points in 21 games, and displayed a good deal of poise in his freshman year.

He took another step forward in 2020-21, scoring 12 points in only 18 games, and again showing rapid development of his game.

Voting

All of our panellists, including the EOTP community vote, see Struble as a top-20 prospect in the system. In fact, all but two ballots placed him in the top 15, so this is a player who has earned a reasonable degree of confidence from our panel, if not unanimously.

Marc: “Jayden Struble is an incredibly physical player with talent, but I don’t see much improvement defensively. I would rank him much higher if I could see some real improvement in his complete game, rounding out his play and leaning more into the offensive puck-moving D archetype.”

I was the high vote amongst the panellists because I believe the physical tools he possesses are so rare. You don’t often see young men with that kind of size who can also move the way he does. I think he warrants a top-10 spot because he has shown some improvement and I believe his weakest areas will eventually catch up with his athleticism and make him a force to be reckoned with.

Top 25 Under 25 History

Debuting at 20th in 2019, he improved to 15th last year and now sits at 11th. It’s a steady rise reflecting how his game is growing into his potential.

History of #11

Year #11
Year #11
2020 Cale Fleury
2019 Josh Brook
2018 Jacob de la Rose
2017 Joni Ikonen
2016 Phillip Danault
2015 Michaël Bournival
2014 Jiri Sekac
2013 Tim Bozon
2012 Morgan Ellis
2011 Alexander Avtsin
2010 Jarred Tinordi

Strengths

If you could design a hockey player from scratch, you might shoot for someone very similar to Struble: six feet tall, weighing in around 205 pounds, and possessing elite strength and cardio. Few will forget his incredible showing at the combine that put him on draft radars in the first place, and he’s only 20 years old, so he has a few years before he reaches what should be an impressive final form.

He knows how to use his strength quite well. He’s able to handle opponents effortlessly along the walls and in front of the net. Puck battles in the NCAA are almost always child’s play for him, and he’s probably strong enough right now to hold his own against the men in the NHL.

Your classic rough and tumble defenders tend to be sluggish skaters, but this is completely untrue for Struble. He skates exceptionally, with an explosive stride, good top-end speed, and agility that would befit a forward. He can and does jump often into the rush, and rarely looks out of place when doing so.

Weaknesses

The same concerns that existed immediately after his selection are still present, albeit less pronounced than they were at the time. He is still somewhat unpolished, and can be prone to positional miscues in his own zone. He also tries some pretty daring plays that his athleticism can allow him to get away with, but might not be so easy to say when he turns pro.

In the video above, you’ll see a rather unnecessary penalty being taken just after the 1:30 mark. He has a tendency to get fired up and take some calls that he doesn’t need to, clocking in with 33 penalty minutes in 18 contests last season. Averaging almost a minor per game played will be less than ideal in the NHL, so it’s something he still needs to work on reining in.

From what I’ve seen of him, I also think he looks off a lot of very good shooting attempts. He has a good shot, and I think it will be hard for him to develop more of a scoring touch from the point if he doesn’t take the opportunities presented to him. It’s another awareness adjustment that I believe he’ll be able to make with time.

Projection

For the time being he does not have an entry-level contract, will not attend Habs rookie camp, and will be back with Northeastern University for the 2021-22 season. This is for the best, as he’s made legitimate strides in his two years in the NCAA, and more time in the league can only benefit his continuing development.

Without a doubt, there is top-pairing potential to his game. If he can work on the aforementioned issues surrounding awareness and penalty trouble, he could very well realize that potential in the future. That’s his ceiling, and I’m not quite sure where his floor is at this point in his development, but I feel rather confident saying that this is a player who will eventually don an NHL jersey with a chance to become a real contributor in hockey’s top league.