MONTREAL, QC – APRIL 28: Jake Evans Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Jake Evans Role
If I told you at the start of the year that Jake Evans would be a key contributor on the first line in the playoffs and the team was doing well, you’d laugh at me. I’d laugh at me. Even saying he would be a fill time NHLer didn’t seem a shoo-in.
Jake Evans was taken 207th overall in the seventh round, or 4th last out of the whole class in 2014. That is a fair while ago. To put it in perspective, Aaron Ekblad was the first overall pick that year, with Leon Draisaitl and Nikolaj Ehlers also being picked in the top ten.
Montreal whiffed often, picking Nikita Scherbak and Brett Lernout with their first two picks. Not exactly high quality. But the 7th round produced some NHL talent that year, with Ondrej Kase, Pierre Engvall and Victor Olofsson all being 7th round picks and playing NHL minutes.
It was a grind for Jake Evans to make it to the NHL; there really isn’t any other way for a smaller, less skilled late round pick to make the NHL.
Evans played 4 seasons in college at Notre Dame, before making the jump to Laval in 2018-2019, where he produced respectable numbers, 45 points in his first season and 38 the next. Last year, Evans got a call-up to Montreal, and the offence dried up, scoring 1 goal and 3 points in 13 games.
But his strong and reliable defensive play earned him a permanent spot on the fourth line this year, beating out some more conventional picks for the spot, including former first round pick Ryan Poehling. Evans’ most common linemates on the year were veteran Paul Byron and the man of the hour, Artturi Lehkonen.
Evans did as expected. Not putting up too much offence (3 goals, 13 points) while playing solid defensively (+/- of 2).
Evans’ best game of his career in the NHL came late in the year, where Montreal was struggling and just needed one point to hold off the Calgary Flames and earn the last playoff spot in the North. They were facing the Edmonton Oilers, a solid second place in the division and certainly a formidable regular season foe.
The line of Byron – Evans – Lehkonen dragged the rest of the Montreal Canadiens kicking and screaming into the playoffs. Each player ended with a goal and assist, even scoring a 4th goal together that was disallowed for being offside. Still, the line looked dangerous every shift, and each player seemed to earn their spot in the playoff roster.
Cut forward to Game 5 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Montreal is down 3-1 in the series and very little is going right, especially after a 4-0 Game 4 loss. Something had to change, and the top line with Tatar was not working. So Dominique Ducharme does something daring and puts this second year, perennial fourth line centre, to the first line wing.
And it worked.
Toronto’s forward corp isn’t the most deep in the world, so Ducharme loaded one line with his two best defensive centres, Danault and Evans, to stop Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Neither got a goal since.
Montreal completed the comeback, and rolled into Winnipeg with the same lines as the ones rolled in Toronto. Game 1 of the second series did not go as anyone thought. Montreal scored early and often in what was supposed to be a goalie duel, but Winnipeg came back to make the game within 1.
Montreal dumped the puck in with Winnipeg’s goalie pulled, and it was a strange play from the get-go. Jake Evans beat everyone handily down the ice, but the puck was directly behind the net. Evans wrapped the puck tight around the net and scored, receiving a dirty hit moments after the puck was in.
No question that it was dirty. The puck was in the opposite corner of the net before Mark Scheifele touched Evans, his feet left the ice, and the hit was to the head. Evans was knocked out before he even hit the ice. Concussion for Evans and he is out indefinitely directly after scoring his first NHL playoff goal.
Thankfully, Evans was okay after the hit, but it left Ducharme with a big hole to fill on the first line.