Montreal Canadiens Jayden Struble has a big decision on his hands regarding where he will play next year, be it with the Northeastern Huskies of the NCAA or the Laval Rocket of the AHL.
The Montreal Canadiens 2nd round pick in 2019 (46th overall) just finished his junior season with Northeastern University and is now pondering whether to sign with the Habs or return to Northeastern for his senior year in the NCAA. There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to such a decision, such as potential playing time, environment, physical readiness and on-ice opportunity.
Montreal Hockey Now sat down with Northeastern University’s director of athletics Jim Madigan and Northeastern Huskies head coach Jerry Keefe to gain more insight into Jayden Struble’s upcoming decision. The understanding was that Jayden had not yet taken the time to sit down and think about what lies in store for his future, a decision his coaches believe the youngster will not take lightly.
“Everyone is going to sit down and do what’s best for the career of Jayden Struble,” said Madigan on Struble’s upcoming decision to turn pro or return for his senior year at Northeastern. “If that means to come back for another year? Then great. If it’s to sign with the Canadiens, that’s great too. In the end, we’re supportive of all our kids.”
The Benefit of Returning For Senior Year
Both felt that it would be in Struble’s best interest to return for his senior year and then turn pro, similar to what Jordan Harris just accomplished this year before signing with Montreal on Saturday. Not only would Struble have a similar path as Harris, but he’d take on much of the same role that Harris had at Northeastern this season, should he return.
“If he comes back next year, he’d be the guy on the back end, just like Jordan Harris was for us the last two years,” said Madigan of what Struble’s role would look like should he return to Northeastern for his senior year. “This past season, he rotated with an A on his jersey, and he was maturing more and more. Being the guy and a leader on defence will help his growth and maturation, helping him better prepare for the NHL level.”
Playing upwards of 25 minutes a game in all situations is a pretty attractive notion for any player, especially considering the Laval Rocket is likely to have next season. With Arber Xhekaj, Kaiden Guhle and Mattias Norlinder all set to join the Canadiens organization at once, and the new additions of Harris and Justin Barron, Struble will have a lot of competition for ice time next season. When this fact was pointed out to coach Keefe, he doubled down on his belief that Struble could gain significantly more experience as a leader at Northeastern.
“It would be really smart for him to come back and take on that No.1 defenceman role. That would be huge for him from a development standpoint,” said Keefe regarding Struble’s role if he decided to return to Northeastern for his senior year.”
With Northeastern set to field another very young edition of the Huskies next season, Struble would be the go-to guy in the locker room and their pillar on defence. Having that top utilization in a league that mirrors the modern NHL game quite well could be just as, if not more, beneficial for a young defender looking to take the next step in the AHL.
ANOTHER! It's 4-0!
— Northeastern Men’s Hockey (@GoNUmhockey) January 8, 2022
Growth as a Leader
The 20-year-old defenceman also took on more of a leadership role this season, which will likely be enhanced should he return to Northeastern. Both Madigan and Keefe praised the growth in his maturity and his discipline since joining Northeastern. They talked about how increased leadership responsibilities could give him the needed boost to mature his game even further.
“For Jayden, he needs to develop more preparation and discipline; and I’m not talking about penalties, but discipline and a routine to finetune his game to be successful at the NHL level,” said Madigan on what Struble needs to work on before truly being ready for the next step. “He’s already improved so much in that regard.”
Both Keefe and Madigan quickly pointed to Struble’s growth as a player on the ice. Struble played with great intensity as a freshman and sometimes got in trouble for letting his emotions get in the way. Over the last two seasons, he’s been able to pick and choose when to unleash that emotion, and it’s made him a much more effective player, especially defensively.
“He plays with a lot of emotion. He did a really good job of controlling that emotion and still playing physical,” said coach Keefe regarding Struble’s personal growth. “Not many times this year did he take undisciplined penalties. He’s a tough kid, and he needs that emotion; you don’t want to take it away from a player like that.”
His personal growth prompted coach Keefe to start rotating Struble with an ‘A’ on his jersey, as a sign that Jayden had begun to show the qualities of a leader on the ice. Having gone through the program as a youngster coming right out of prep school, Keefe and Madigan would lean on Struble quite heavily to guide the young Huskies next season.
“He earned a letter this year, which was a big step for him in learning how to become a leader,” said Keefe regarding Struble’s added responsibilities this season. “He came into our program as a really young kid himself, right out of prep school, and we had a lot of freshmen that came in this past year, and he was a positive influence for them.”
Jayden Struble with the reverse hit on Jason Polin, who crashes hard into the boards. Polin was slow to get up. pic.twitter.com/KGuXJfe4QJ
— Patrick Donnelly (@PatDonn12) March 25, 2022
Fears Of Taking The “NCAA UFA Loophole”
A grand majority of Montreal Canadiens fans were very spooked when fellow Canadiens prospect and Northeastern Huskie Jordan Harris returned to the NCAA for his senior year. That’s due to the loophole in the NHL’s CBA, which allows NCAA players who’ve completed their four years of NCAA hockey to become unrestricted free agents in the summer after completing their senior year.
According to Madigan, those fears are unfounded now that Kent Hughes is the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.
“I will say this, with Kent Hughes in a management role, the fears of college-level players taking the UFA route should be lessened,” said Madigan regarding the anxiety that fans may have to allow a player to go back to the NCAA for their senior year. “Your first example is Jordan Harris. Hughes being the general manager made it a lot easier for Jordan to sign with the Canadiens.”
Madigan went a step further in displaying his confidence in Struble’s eventual signing with the Montreal Canadiens, by bringing up a connection between Hughes and Struble that has gone under the radar since the former became general manager.
“There’s a very good relationship between the Montreal Canadiens organization and Northeastern University,” said Madigan regarding the free-flowing communication between the members of management on both teams. “Kent Hughes was Jayden’s family advisor before becoming the Montreal Canadiens general manager.”
With Hughes being his former family advisor, there’s very little doubt regarding whether or not the 20-year-old would choose to sign with the Montreal Canadiens; the real question is simply to determine at what time it would be best for him to do so.
Given the logjam of left-shooting defencemen currently under contract by the Montreal Canadiens, the increased playing time and pivotal leadership role waiting for him at Northeastern and his existing relationship with Hughes, there’s no downside in Struble returning to college for one more year. In fact, it would probably be the best decision for all involved, most importantly Jayden Struble himself.