Setting Expectations for Jake Evans

Segue Issue 21-03

October 13, 2021

For this issue of Segue I was inspired by a hit on the TSN690 Morning Show, hosted by Conor McKenna and Shaun Starr, on October 12th. Marc Denis was the guest and the group discussed the recently announced 23-man roster.

I’d recommend listening to the entire hit at the link below – it’s a good one.  

https://www.tsn.ca/radio/montreal-690/denis-why-are-the-habs-carrying-6-defensemen-1.1705346

A number of items were discussed, but the one that caught my attention revolved around expectations for Jake Evans. Conor reflected on Brendan Gallagher’s performance in the preseason and asked a brilliant question. Who would miss whom more? Would Gallagher miss Phil Danault more, or would Danault miss Gallagher more.

The question led to a discussion of what could be expected of Evans in the upcoming season. Shaun was especially punchy when he said he expected Evans to grow into the defensive role played by Danault, the more difficult role, and that he’d be able to “provide more consistent offence than what the Canadiens got out of Phil Danault.”

The conversation continued with Starr’s expectation that Evans could eventually put up 50 points with good line-mates and ice time. He stated his position that it is Evans that replaces Danault, rather than Christian Dvorak.

I’m going to dive into that idea just a little bit here.

Jake Evans’ trajectory is closer to Phillip Danault’s than you think.  

Perhaps the biggest thing that sets these two players apart is expectation. Danault was selected in the first round, 26th overall, in the 2011 draft. He had turned 18 the previous February and was playing in the QMJHL. Three years later in 2014, Evans was drafted 207th overall in the seventh round. He turned 18 right before the draft and played in the OJHL the previous year. One player was expected to advance to the NHL and one player was not.

From a developmental perspective, Danault took the junior hockey path while Evans went to college and completed his four-year degree before turning pro. Both players had developmental time in the AHL.

Shaun Starr didn’t pull this idea out of thin air. When asked during camp how the Habs would make up for the loss of Danault, Ducharme consistently referenced Evans. But is that a realistic expectation? Can Evans break out this season and fill a large hole left by Danault’s departure?

Danault had some significant help entering his breakout year.

There are some things worth noting in this chart. The first season that Phillip Danault played significant games in the NHL – he played in two games the previous season – was the 2015-16 season when he was traded from Chicago to Montreal. It’s the yellow row. Pay attention to it because there is another yellow row coming up.

That season, Phil played 51 games and scored 4 goals and 6 assists with an average ice time of 12:37. He was also a -5. Now here is the kicker. The following season he formed a line with Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, by far the best wingers in Montreal.

Remember Starr’s qualifier – if given the same quality of line-mates and ice time, he said Jake Evans could grow into the defensive role and bring more consistent offence than Danault.

Now is when you need to compare the yellow rows. He came to it a little later – two development seasons and less than that in actual chronological years, but the 2020-21 season from Jake Evans was pretty similar to that 2015-16 season from Phil Danault. He actually accomplished more with less ice time.

The guys lining up with Evans aren’t too shabby.

Evans will start the game tonight between Joel Armia and Brendan Gallagher. The whole discussion that led me here came from Conor McKenna’s question about Gallagher’s ability to drive play. Then there is Armia, who is known for his strong defensive awareness, his ability to protect the puck in the offensive zone, and he can score. Those guys aren’t Pacioretty and Radulov – they’re not even the best scoring wingers on this version of the Habs – but they’re strong wingers that can support Evans in his new role.

Another point to note here is that the Danault chart shows off his breakout year. He had better years after that, and he had worse. I’m not sure Evans can replicate Danault’s best years. But if we prorate last season, Danault was on pace for 8 goals and 29 points. I don’t believe that’s a hard act for Evans to follow.

Tonight, we get our first look at the new Habs without Danault… and Price and Weber and Tatar and… Evans may not be the first guy to catch our attention, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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