You don’t expect to be pitted against highly touted Connor McDavid and win very often, but forward Jake Evans did it last year in minor midget hockey’s grandest stage.
As part of the Mississauga Rebels, who defeated McDavid’s Toronto Marlboros 2-1 at the 2012 OHL Cup showcase tournament, Evans and his linemates had regular shifts against the budding superstar, and didn’t fare too badly.
McDavid was the third-ever player, following John Tavares of the New York Islanders and Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts, to be given exceptional status by the Ontario Hockey League, which allowed him to play in that league at the age of 15.
In March 2013, a fourth player, defenceman Sean Day, received exceptional status.
Evans’s play at the OHL Cup may have helped him get recognized as well.
The National Hockey League’s Central Scouting service has Evans listed on its preliminary 2014 watch list as a ‘B’ skater, meaning he is a projected mid-round draft pick.
“I think he’s higher than a mid-rounder,” says Rich Ricci, Evans’s head coach with the Jr. A St. Michael’s Buzzers. “He’s a high offensive talent and I think if you project him out to when he’s 22 or 23-years-old, he’s going to be a valuable asset to an NHL team.”
However, Evans, 17, just wants to focus on the here and now.
“It doesn’t really mean a lot to me because I have a year left [at St. Michael’s College School],” says Evans. “It’s nice to be mentioned, but it doesn’t mean much beyond that.”
The Buzzers won the Ontario Junior Hockey League championship last season and were a goal away from also winning the Central Canadian Junior A championship, which would have earned them a spot in the nationals.
That team, however, lost many of its players due to graduation. This year, the Buzzers are relying on returnees like Evans to step into leadership roles.
“He leads with his play and he’s still one of the younger guys on the team,” says Ricci. “It’s not a lot of verbal communication, it’s more the way he plays.”
Evans ‘feature guy’
Evans recorded 12 goals and 44 points in 50 games played last season. So far this season, he is producing well over a point a game.
“He’s maturing with age and there’s more opportunity where he’s a go-to guy and he’s a feature guy on the power play now,” says Ricci. “I think it’s the natural evolution of a player when they get older year by year, it’s an opportunity to move up in the depth chart and stuff like this is what usually happens.”
His coach speaks highly of him and he is appearing on scouts’ radar, but oddly enough—or, wisely—Evans wants to be prepared for life without hockey.
Taken in the eighth round of the 2012 OHL Draft by the Kitchener Rangers, Evans instead decided to head to the NCAA.
“I think college hockey and the OHL is kind of on the same level,” says Evans, who will be studying business in college. “I just want to have a backup plan if hockey doesn’t work out…I’ll have a degree from Notre Dame, it’ll be pretty good.”