EDMONTON – Jake Evans could easily have attempted to pass to Paul Byron on their short-handed 2-on-1 midway through the second period on Saturday night, but he didn’t.
After evaluating the situation, the 24-year-old centerman elected instead to take full advantage of the open lane in front of him and shoot on Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen.
Following Sunday’s practice at Rogers Place, Evans was asked if he felt compelled to dish the puck to his veteran teammate, and he delivered a confident reply.
“I was coming down and just trying to read my options, and honestly the hole to pass to Pauly didn’t really open up. They had some good back pressure, so I just thought about shooting it and keep driving to the net and I got a nice bounce there,” explained Evans, who registered the third goal of his NHL career and his first while the Canadiens were down a man. “That was my thing, and I wasn’t feeling pressure or anything to pass it as a new guy here. I just thought shooting was the best play.”
It absolutely was, with Koskinen yielding a juicy rebound that led to the Habs’ penultimate goal in an impressive 5-1 victory on road ice.
Head coach Claude Julien applauded Evans’ decision-making under the circumstances because he could have tried to make a play that simply wasn’t there.
Even though Byron was appearing in the 450th game of his NHL career and Evans just his 15th, the University of Notre Dame grad just kept calm and carried on.
“Naturally, most of the time you see a young player wanting to make a veteran happy and sometimes you’ll force that pass, but it was the right play to do and he was able to pounce on his own rebound and then shoot that puck in,” praised Julien. “That was a good decision on his part and it shows again that he’s got a good hockey mind. That was the right play to make at that time.”
It was a particularly strong bounce back game for Evans, who wasn’t pleased with his effort in the season opener in Toronto where he logged just 8:52 of ice time and went 1-for-7 (14.3%) in the faceoff circle.
But with the help of his regular linematers, Byron and Artturi Lehkonen, he was able to shake the disappointing performance off and right the ship mentally for the first of two straight contests in the Albertan capital.
“They’ve both been in the League for a while now and I just think they’re such strong players. They’re easy to play with and they’re great guys off the ice. They’re helping me out a lot,” revealed Evans. “We’re staying really positive. I don’t think I had the best of games in the first one and they were still very positive afterwards the next day and back at practice. I think that really helped me out.”
The former seventh-round selection registered four shots on goal, two hits, one blocked shot and went 4-for-8 (50%) in the dot while playing 12:35.
Admittedly, Evans is steadily learning how to effectively cope with adversity at this level.
“I was definitely looking back to a few of those games I had last year that didn’t go my way. This year, I was just trying to forget it. It was the first game of the season. Afterwards I didn’t want to take it too seriously, so that was big for me, getting that experience and putting it into this year,” explained Evans. “I went into the game last night not afraid of making mistakes and focusing on just playing hard, and I’m happy things turned out well.”
Looking to improve
The Spengler Cup winner is especially committed to taking his faceoff game to new heights as the season continues.
He’s fortunate to be learning the tricks of the trade from one of the best in the business right now in Phillip Danault, who is also mentoring Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki in that department.
During the offseason, Evans also works on draws with his skating partners, including fellow NHLers Sean Monahan, Connor Brown and Scott Laughton, so he’s clearly dedicated to his craft.
“I think the best guys are the ones that can adapt and take away the other guy’s strengths – and if things aren’t going well, they can change things up quickly. That’s something I want to work on,” mentioned Evans. “Against Toronto, I was struggling a little bit and I couldn’t really switch things up. That’s something that the great faceoff guys can do in this League and I definitely want to learn and figure out new ways if things aren’t going well.”
It’s safe to say that Julien believes this AHL grad can accomplish anything, so it’ll be fun to watch his progress in the weeks and months to come.
“We know he’s a smart player,” said Julien. “He has a good head for the game. He figures things out.”