Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Montreal Canadiens were looking towards next season. They unloaded most of their pending unrestricted free agents at the deadline. That included the veteran and ultimate teammate Nate Thompson. Thompson was an excellent and very underrated acquisition by the Habs just a season ago. He plays a solid shut down game, sklilled faceoff man and an excellent leader on and off the ice. So moving him could not come easy. However, the Habs are looking at the future. They have a player who looks ready to fill Nate Thompson’s shoes and be a key contributor to the success of the club. That player’s name is Jake Evans.
Jake Evans Ready to Make the Leap to the Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens drafted Jake Evans in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. When you’re getting a player that late, the chances of them succeeding and actually making the NHL are pretty slim. However, Evans looks like he’s ready to beat those odds. After putting in the work and coming up through the ranks, Evans earned a call-up to the Habs on February 6th of this season. And he has not looked back.
Developing in College
Evans chose the college route to start his road to the NHL. He played for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for four seasons. After a decent rookie season where he put up seven goals and 10 assists in 41 games, Evans destroyed the narrative of sophomore slumps by scoring eight goals and 25 assists for 33 points in 37 games. This was good for second on the team in points behind Boston Bruins forward Anders Bjork. He continued this solid play the following two seasons averaging over a point per game in each season and leading Notre Dame in scoring in his senior year.
Evans helped lead the Fighting Irish to a second-place finish at the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. His play also helped Canada win the Spengler Cup that season as well.
It was during this time where Evans really matured as a player and developed into a solid two-way pivot. He was an excellent playmaker at the College level and was trusted in every scenario of the game. Evans played on the team’s top line and played on both special teams. He was trusted to shut down the opposing team’s top players all while being the go-to guy on his own club.
His development at the college level earned him a two-year entry-level contract with the Canadiens after his final season ended.
Making the Jump to the AHL
Making the jump from college to pro was seamless for Evans. In his first year with the Laval Rocket under coach Joel Bouchard, Evans racked up 13 goals and 32 assists for 45 points in 67 games. This was good for second on the team in his rookie season. Again, he developed his two-way game and was trusted by Bouchard in all situations. To come into your first professional season and earn the trust of your coach so quickly is a huge compliment to Evans’ game and paints a picture of the type of player he is going to be moving forward.
This season, his second as a pro, Evans lead the team in points. Evans finished his AHL season with 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points in 51 games. I say finished his AHL season, not because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because Evans played his last AHL game on February 22nd. It was after that game that Evans earned a call-up to the Canadiens, where he looks to stay.
Evans Making an Impact in the NHL
Evans logged 13 games at the NHL level this season. He scored two goals and added an assist in those games while averaging just over 10 minutes per game. This put him on pace to finish with four goals and two assists to end the season. Six points in 24 games does not seem like a whole lot. However, given the circumstances (the number of minutes he was playing and the fact that he’s a rookie) it’s a very respectable start.
He did not waste time scoring his first NHL goal. It only took the forward three games to do so. Evans went to the net and buried the rebound on the third attempt after both Nate Thompson and Nick Cousins were denied by Antti Raanta. Ironic that Nate Thompson assisted on Evans’ first goal and also retrieved the puck for the youngster, given that Evans is essentially taking over his spot in the lineup.
The production is not what made him stand out, however. It was the way he thinks the game, his solid two-way play and the situations that coach Claude Julien elected to play Evans that really stood out. Julien (who is normally a tough coach for a young player to play under) trusted Evans with playing minutes on both special teams. He logged 7:19 minutes of powerplay time and 7:21 minutes on the penalty kill in those 13 games. Evans essentially took over the minutes left behind by Thompson after he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
It was because of his strong play that Marc Bergevin was comfortable moving Thompson at the deadline. This showed he has faith in the player Evans had developed into. It also shows he has confidence in him moving forward. In a season that was pretty much lost, the best thing to do is to see what you have in your young players. That is exactly what the Canadiens did.
Here to Stay
Now, Jake Evans has his foot in the door for the Canadiens. He beat the odds of making it to the NHL after being a seventh-round pick back in 2014. He took the long road through the NCAA rankings and put in his time in the AHL. Now, he has developed into a solid two-way option for the Canadiens and has already earned the trust of coach Claude Julien. What his potential moving forward at the NHL level will remain to be seen. However, we should see him earn a full-time roster spot right out of camp next season.