Most Montreal Canadiens fans know by now the name of Jayden Struble. He was one of the highly touted picks of the Marc Bergevin tenure. Cited as a Greek god by the old regime, Struble was one of the best performers at the 2019 NHL Scouting Combine prospects evaluation, finishing first in five of 18 fitness tests, and as such showing some elite athleticism that warranted his selection at 46th at the time.
The last three years haven’t been easy for him. Quite a few injuries slowed his development. His last year wasn’t as dominant as his first two, with just 14 points in 34 games played, barely more that what he’d produced in about half as many matches a season earlier. He is now going back to Northeastern hoping to put together a great year to keep the new Habs brass interested in him.
Struble finished with the same average as Jan Mysak, but takes 18th place by virtue of a higher high vote among the 12 ballots. He actually received three placements higher than Mysak’s top spot at 17. That also means there’s a much larger range of opinions on the defence prospect.
Last year, I had said the following: “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.”
It still applies today, despite a slight progression in his game. The skills are undeniably there, but something seems to be amiss.
That is not to say that Struble is devoid of talents. It goes without saying, but the physical elements to his game are some of the best in the NCAA. When his opponents head down his side, they already know what’s waiting for them. The 6’0”, 200-pound blue-liner is well known for his big hits. He mastered the art of playing with an edge while being responsible in his own zone. He shifts his weight very well, maintaining and using his centre of gravity to his advantage to throw players off-balance. Along the boards, his body-positioning and core strength make him more likely to separate opponents from the puck.
His skating is also one of the best strengths of his game. He moves extremely well, with an explosive stride, good top-end speed, and agility that would befit a speedy forward.
What’s more, he has a strong toolbox that could help him become a point-producing player at the professional level. He’s agile and knows how to weave through opposing players, has a cannon of a shot — both his slapshot and wrister — and can dish out cross-ice passes easily. He can also use his physical talents to become a net-front presence if the occasion arises.
His combination of physicality and four-direction mobility makes him a great rush player on both sides of the puck. He knows how to use his body both in the offensive and defensive zones, crushing opponents around the puck. He excels in puck battles and body-positioning, where his strength comes in handy. He is excellent at using his skating and stickhandling to break through checks while going end-to-end.
What makes him most dangerous on the ice is that he never stops looking for ways to improve his attacking lanes. Even though the points totals don’t suggest an Adam Fox-type player, he still tries hard to find ways to enable the offence to work.
History of #18
Despite all the glorious tools Struble possesses, there is still a glaring weakness that needs to be addressed. Sometimes his poor decision-making rears its ugly head and leads to questionable plays. Whether it’s because he strives so hard to making offence materialize or simply because he overthinks plays developing in front of him, he is caught doing the same Ill-advised pinches and reckless hits that he showed in high-school action.
Consistency remains an issue that limits his overall effectiveness. Sometimes you’ll see him playing with seemingly little interest in the game. At other times, he will seem possessed and will do everything in his power to win the game at hand. Improving his mental game would also help with some of his on-ice decision-making as he’s prone to misreading the situation and creating more problems for himself.
There’s also the matter of his temper. His tendency to retaliate earned him some unnecessary penalty minutes last season. He played 34 games and amassed 65 PIMs, a rate of nearly one penalty per game. For someone willing to dish out so much physically, he needs to accept that others will try to do the same to him.
Some Canadiens fans might now be having flashbacks of Jordan Harris’s last year in the NCAA. Struble is set to go back for his final year at Northeastern, and it is a make-or-break year for him. The left side of the defence is stacked in Montreal’s system, so he will need to show real progress and promise for the team to sign him.
He has a chance at becoming a top-four defenceman in the NHL if he keeps developing along the right path. Should his decision-making catch up to his athleticism and skill, he will become one of the organization’s best prospects.
Showing promise and progress would entice the Habs’ brass into investing more in him, but he may have to take his talents elsewhere if the fit doesn’t materialize.