Montreal Canadiens: Jake Evans Shows He Is Ready For Full-Time NHL Duty in Another Habs Loss

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Jake Evans #71 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Jake Evans #71 of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens lost again last night. The postseason is not a possibility at this point, but looking ahead to next year, Jake Evans is showing he will be a member of the team trying to end a three year postseason drought.

The Montreal Canadiens have been stockpiling draft picks lately. They made 21 selections in the past two drafts and currently hold 14 picks for the upcoming NHL Draft in Montreal in June. The draft is a bit of a crapshoot, so there is no guarantee these 14 picks are going to turn the franchise around.

However, there is good reason to be trading depth players like Nate Thompson for a fifth round picks, or Matthew Peca for a seventh round pick. The Habs have done well under Trevor Timmins watch with late draft picks. We got another reminder last night of just how good the Canadiens have been late in the draft, when Jake Evans scored the lone goal in a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Evans, along with Cayden Primeau and Brett Stapley who is following in Evans footsteps in the college game right now, were all taken in the seventh round of the draft. It is rare that a team gets production out of their very last draft picks, but the Habs have done quite well there.

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When they traded Thompson to the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline, it opened up a roster spot on the fourth line. It is not the most glamorous of jobs in the NHL, but Thompson was great at face-offs, killed penalties and provided leadership in the dressing room. Not flashy, but an important part of a team where depth is required more than ever to make the postseason.

As the Canadiens battled injuries and there was the usual line shuffling, promotions and demotions, the only real fixture in the lineup all season until the trade deadline was Nate Thompson would be the fourth line center. He played every game but one due to an illness and every night he was in the same spot in the lineup, playing the exact same role.

So, when Thompson was moved to Philadelphia, it left a void that needed to be filled. With fellow veterans like Nick Cousins, Peca, and Ilya Kovalchuk leaving town at the same time it didn’t give the Habs many options for filling that spot in the lineup.

There was only player in the minors, really lighting it up who deserved a chance to show what he could do at the NHL level and that player was Jake Evans.

He had a solid career at Notre Dame where he played the four full seasons and developed into a point per game player. Last year, he had a solid AHL rookie campaign, finishing second on the Rocket team with 45 points in 67 games. This year got off on the wrong foot, though. He had just four points in his first 17 games, but then he caught fire.

Evans was a point per game player over the next 34 AHL games. He did it while playing in every situation for the Rocket and helped carry them into playoff contention. Evans had a short stint with the Habs in early February, scoring a goal in five games while playing less than ten minutes most nights.

He was sent back down to Laval where he scored four points in three games. Then came the trade deadline and Thompson’s iron clad roster spot was open. It was pretty obvious who should get the call up to fill that void.

Evans has played six more games in a Habs sweater since being recalled. His first three games saw him play less than ten minutes in a limited role. That role continues to grow and expand as the games go on.

Last night, Evans was on a regular rotation on the penalty kill, playing nearly 1:30 during the Habs three minor penalties. He has not looked out of place defensively at all, was fine on the penalty kill and is also winning 56.25% of his face-offs this season at the NHL level.

Also, with the Habs losing 4-1 last night, Evans connected on the only goal. He looked confident holding on to the puck in the offensive zone, cutting through the slot to get the goaltender moving to his glove side. As he got the goalie moving, Evans fired a wrist shot over the blocker for his second ever NHL goal.

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It was just his second point in 12 NHL games this season. However, the 23 year old looks great defensively, wins face-offs, is starting to kill penalties and has shown some flashes of offence. In other words, he is the perfect replacement for Thompson and should hold on to this role through next season as well.