It’s hard to think of a player who has been talked about less, since the start of this training camp, than Jake Evans.
The possible, even probable, use of Alex Newhook at the center of the third line almost beyond any doubt confines Evans to the center of the fourth unit. In the great game of “chairs”, the undeniable buzz word of this camp, he is one of those whose fate is most clearly established.
On the offensive side, his last season was not very satisfactory. His 19 points, including only 2 goals, marked a regression from the previous two years. Victim of a knee injury which cost him nine weeks of activity, he played only 54 matches.
Never mind that he played his fair share of “difficult minutes”, to use the words of Brendan Gallagher. Despite missing a third of the games, Evans was the team’s most-used shorthanded forward – 151 1/2 minutes total. A little more than half (51.1%) of the faceoffs where he was stationed, in all situations, took place in the defensive zone. He won a very respectable 52.7%, surpassed only by Christian Dvorak in this regard.
In fact, between them, Evans and Dvorak accounted for 44.2% of the team’s defensive zone faceoffs. In the absence of Dvorak, who will not play until November, and knowing that Alex Newhook is anything but a specialist in the field (38.6% career success in the NHL), everything suggests that ‘Evans will still find his usefulness with the Canadian. Especially since the team wants to reduce Nick Suzuki’s shorthanded task.
After practice Thursday, Gallagher listed what he thinks Evans brings to his team: “He plays a lot of tough minutes, he’s not afraid to use his body, he can take on the opposition’s best players, he takes important faceoffs, he takes penalties… He’s a guy you can trust in difficult situations. »
The fact that the two were on the same line in training perhaps put Gallagher in a good mood towards him. He was nevertheless an informed spectator of the evolution of his colleague, now 27 years old. The veteran is, along with Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia, one of only three players who attended Evans’ debut in the Canadian uniform, in 2019-2020, and who are still with the organization.
Those who have arrived since, however, make an observation similar to that of Gallagher.
“He’s a guy who gives us depth,” said head coach Martin St-Louis. I know he is capable of giving more offensively, he would be the first to say it. We want him to continue to progress as a player. He plays important minutes on the defensive side of the game. »
We could not verify whether Evans was the first to say this because he was not available for interviews Thursday.
Perhaps the word that best describes Evans is “reliability.” “No matter where he plays, he’s consistent. He never takes a night off,” Josh Anderson pointed out. This, as we know, does not necessarily translate into the scorecard. But some indicators prove Anderson right.
In total, 22 different trios played at least 40 minutes of five-on-five with the Canadian last season, according to the MoneyPuck website. Among these combinations, the three led by Jake Evans found themselves among the top eight in terms of expected goals proportion. So the trio of Evans, Anderson and Juraj Slafkovsky controlled a game-high 71.4% of expected goals when combined. The Evans-Slafkovsky duo also looked good in this regard with Michael Pezzetta.
Obviously real goals are more meaningful. However, within one of the worst defensive teams on the circuit, this is not uninteresting.
“Jake does all the little things well,” Pezzetta testified. When I play with him, I know he will support me everywhere on the ice. Every team needs a guy like him. »
Although the league is increasingly focused on offense, the fourth lines are not there to play extras, recalled the winger.
“When you look at the teams that made it to the final, yes, their top 6 or top 9 were incredible, but they also had fourth lines that were capable of contributing offensively without being a risk defensively,” Pezzetta continued. This is exactly what I’m looking for. We want to be difficult to face. If our fourth line forces the other team to spend 45 seconds in their zone and then Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield jump on the ice against a tired unit, that’s a winning presence for us. »
In this year of growth for the Habs, the “winning presences” will be worth their weight in gold. So even if he goes under the radar in September, a player like Jake Evans will return to the center of action soon enough.
Jared Davidson was the least used player by Martin St-Louis on Wednesday night in the victory against the Ottawa Senators. However, it is not with joy that the coach has used the 21-year-old forward so little, who will join the Laval Rocket this season. Before he could even step on the ice, two penalties were imposed. Davidson didn’t let it get him down, however: from his first appearance, his work led to Brandon Gignac’s goal. “I apologized a little,” St-Louis said Thursday. There were so many special teams, it wasn’t easy for the youngster. » Davidson, however, continued to impress his bosses, having had a great camp. “I always tell the players that you have to go on the bases [like in baseball]. And in each of his appearances, he went to first base. Compared to last year, he has seen some damn good progress. »