At the 2019 NHL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens‘ first pick (15th overall) was used to take Cole Caufield, who seemed well on his way to a 40-goal campaign this season before a shoulder injury ended his pursuit in January.
A seventh-rounder from that draft, Rafael Harvey-Pinard, had 15 goals and 25 points in 37 games with AHL Laval this season, which earned him a call up to the NHL team. There, Harvey-Pinard has become something of a fan favourite, and has managed eight goals in 24 games.
On Wednesday, they officially added another player from their 2019 pool of selections to the organization.
As much as Montreal’s rebuild will be defined by what they did at the top of the 2022 draft, and what they’ll do with another two first-rounders in 2023, they were already starting to hoard prospects before their Cup final appearance in 2021. The last time the Habs made fewer than the seven picks a team starts off with at a draft was all the way back in 2016. And while picking at the top of the draft is nice and should bring an impact player, no rebuild gains any traction without finding players further down the order, too.
So we shouldn’t look past Montreal’s signing of defenceman Jayden Struble out of Northeastern University. A senior, Struble could have been a UFA free to sign with anyone in August, but now will begin his pro career within the organization that picked him in the second round (46th overall) four years ago.
To learn how Struble has developed over the past four years, and how he might fit into Montreal’s emerging roster, we turn to our scout Jason Bukala for his breakdown.
The art of scouting players is not an exact science (as everyone knows). Sometimes prospects will mislead us. They appear to be a certain style of player, but ultimately end up developing into an entirely different player as a pro.
I don’t believe that’s the case with Jayden Struble, though.
Struble is a mobile, strong, physical (at times mean), two-way defenceman. He averaged over 19 minutes per game at the college level. I don’t expect him to produce a ton of offence as a pro, but he will be deployed at even strength and on the penalty kill. Struble will block shots and gap up with authority when the play is skating through his lane.
He was used in all situations at Northeastern, including the secondary power play, but he won’t be used in that role with the Habs. Sometimes less is more when he’s handling the puck. He’s at his best when he makes simple plays with the puck, but occasionally gets himself into trouble when he takes too long to move the play from below his goal line.
I’m not going to overplay my hand describing Struble. He has a chance to work himself into a bottom pairing role at the NHL level. Players like him are valuable. The Canadiens will never have to coach him up to be physical and play a disruptive game.
Projection: Two-way, leaning shutdown, physical sixth or seventh defenceman at the NHL level