Marc Bergevin is arguably one of the strongest general managers in the history of the National Hockey League (NHL). That didn’t stop the man with the huge biceps from getting carried away about Jayden Struble’s musculature at the draft table in 2019.
“This guy is a Greek God,” exclaimed the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.
Selected at 46e rank that year, Struble is a specimen. He is probably the Habs most fascinating hope right now, however arbitrary and subjective that qualifier is.
Struble’s head coach at Northeastern University, Montrealer Jim Madigan, has never seen anything like it in any of his players. And he’s led a few that have reached the NHL, including Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson.
“Manson had the physical strength. But in this youngster, athleticism bursts through the roof. We haven’t had anyone like him. He has the body of an NFL wide receiver. It is cut with a knife, ”he told TVASports.ca.
Struble also has an asset in his arsenal that cannot be taught. He is nasty. He is hard. He wants to hurt others. In Montreal, big guys like Jarred Tinordi and Guillaume Latendresse often felt the pressure to play brutally and aggressively even if it was not in their nature. It’s innate in Struble.
“When he’s on the ice, our guys gain 15 pounds and 2 inches,” illustrates Madigan. He is robust and above all, he likes to play in a robust way. A lot of players don’t like to be mean. He knows he will have to answer for his actions and throw in the gloves. I saw him fight in the summer leagues. He will have to learn to protect himself against the 6 ‘and 4’ ‘guys, but that won’t diminish his toughness. “
The specter of Zach Bogosian
Back in 2008. At the traditional hopefuls assessment session, more commonly known as “Combine,” Zach Bogosian looks like a 28-year-old adult among a bunch of kids.
In the draft, Bogosian was selected in third place by the Atlanta Thrashers ahead of Alex Pietrangelo and Erik Karlsson, a lean Swede who seemed very far from the big leagues.
Lesson learned: beware of those hopes who enjoy a considerable lead over others in terms of physical maturity.
Struble’s physical abilities were also evident during the 2019 Combine in Buffalo. The youngster pulverized the competition, placing first in 5 of 18 tests.
However, Struble is not just a bundle of muscles on skates. This is where he stands out from certain physical phenomena of his caliber, those which had their heyday during the famous “Dead Puck Era”, this period during which the hooking was omnipresent, before the lockout of 2004. This is also what explains why the limits of its potential remain a perfect enigma.
“He has excellent skills with the puck,” notes Madigan. People don’t notice it, because they only see the tough side and the athletic body. He moves the puck. He has a very good shot. ”
On December 19, in a 3-3 draw against Providence, Struble’s talent was not in doubt. Early in the first period, the powerful fullback grabbed the puck along the ramp, made a sublime pass by pivoting on himself and followed the play to finally take advantage of a free puck around the edge. of the opposing net.
Struble added an assist later in the game. He claims four points in as many games so far this season. So there you have it for the myth of the physical defender with limited abilities.
With or without the puck, it’s impossible not to notice Struble on an ice rink. Ironically, this is sort of one of its flaws.
Struble wants to make an impact. Right now, now, immediately. Even if the result is entertaining, often spectacular, it lacks a bit of structure in its game.
Despite being aware of what he needs to correct, the 6ft, 194lb athlete has not had many opportunities to put his coach’s directions into practice.
The 2019-2020 season does not represent a very conclusive sample. Struble was injured at the Canadiens development camp in the summer of 2019. He then missed his team’s pre-season games in the NCAA, then the first four of the season. At the end of October, he finally started playing.
“Around December, he started to play well, to learn our systems,” says Madigan. And he got injured on February 1. A sprained ankle. Really bad luck. ”
“So he goes to work on the structure of his game, he gets injured, he comes back to our training camp this year and, in October, he worsens a groin injury at the evaluation camp.” of the United States National Junior Team … “
Madigan touches wood, but health finally seems to smile on Struble. We can finally see what he is really capable of.
“He has been healthy here for a few weeks. And he was very good. He’s working on his structure. What I mean by that is that he learns to choose his moments to support the attack. It helps its defense partner more.
“He’s learning to use his toughness well: when to let the game come to him and when to step in and hit someone.” These are the aspects we are working on. But he’s a tough, mean young man. When he’s on the ice, the other team knows it. “
In order to prevent another injury, Struble must be at the rink well before training begins. “He has to prepare himself before each session. He arrives 30 minutes early to do his warm-ups, ”explains Madigan.
An obvious contrast
In Jayden Struble and Jordan Harris, the Montreal Canadiens have two quality prospects polishing their game at Northeastern University. Two hopes that their coach Jim Madigan sees eventually occupy roles of third or fourth defenseman in the NHL.
The comparison stops there. Because the personalities of the two teammates are completely poles apart.
“Jayden is the antithesis of Jordan,” says Madigan. There is a big contrast. Jayden is intimidating. He likes to talk. He taunts the players on the ice. He wants to get it right now, while Jordan is happy to wait for the right moment. ”
If Jordan is a quiet, poised leader, letting his game on the ice do the work, Jayden is the player with the vibrant personality who brings the locker room to life.
“He likes to make jokes and take the guys on board with him,” says his trainer. He is very loyal. He encourages his teammates and enjoys seeing them achieve success. He needs less structure in life, which works for him. But he still adds a little to his game to be able to better manage what is happening on the ice. He has a carefree attitude and I hear him in a positive way. He enjoys life every day, with a smile on his face. ”
The plan for Struble this season is to have him play 20 to 22 minutes per game and give him time on the shorthanded as well as on the second wave of the power play. Harris will assume the larger role and will receive 25 minutes or more per meeting.
It’s Harris who’s closest to the NHL right now, and not just because of his age. His calm and balanced style should ease his transition to professionals. Struble, he will have to learn to put his great skills to work without falling into the trap of doing too much.
Still, it’s probably Struble who has the most intriguing offensive potential. If he manages to find the proverbial happy medium, he risks giving the Canadiens fans their money’s worth …