It’s Too Early to Give Up on Jacob de la Rose

Photo: Colin Peddle, St John's IceCaps

Photo: Colin Peddle, St John’s IceCaps

A quick peek at Jacob de la Rose’s stat-line immediately raises questions: Two assists in 11 games and 27 points in 82 AHL games. These aren’t eye-popping totals, and are in fact best described as disappointing.

There’s definitely cause for concern about de la Rose’s offensive upside based off this young season (and the last two). But let’s not forget as recent as last year the Swede was one of the organization’s most promising young talents.

The reality: De la Rose has never been a high-end offensive contributor. It was his defensive ability, size/strength, and skating that allowed him to play against men at the age of 16. De la Rose’s draft season was spent as a bottom-six forward on a Leksands IF squad that earned a promotion to the SHL.

In his draft+1, de la Rose was a regular third line forward (seeing the odd game in the top-six) and penalty killer. But what made that season so impressive wasn’t just his defensive smarts. De la Rose demonstrated a powerful shot, crafty playmaking, and a combination of puck handling and speed that allowed him to string together controlled exits and controlled entries.

Given that de la Rose was already a strong defensive player and had flashes of offensive upside, it wasn’t too surprising that the Canadiens brought him across the Atlantic to start his North American professional career at the age of just 19. However, de la Rose struggled offensively for most of the first half. He was unable to contribute in a variety of roles, but there was reason for optimism come January.

It was following a second straight strong World Junior Championship showing that got de la Rose’s season on track. It armed him with a newly-found confidence that landed him five points and 11 shots on goal in six games. De la Rose was relentless with possession, driving neutral and offensive zone play, and getting himself into scoring position.

Just as de la Rose found his scoring touch, the Canadiens recalled him for the rest of the season. From that point forward, de la Rose has grappled with inconsistent usage, performance, and production.

AHL Scoring Struggles

A stretch of seven points in 11 games led to a three-game stint in the NHL and shortly after two goals in three games (and a slew of injures) saw de la Rose return to the NHL for 19 underwhelming games. Once returned to the AHL for the last four games, de la Rose found twine three times.

De la Rose always finds ways to be noticeable, whether that be making strong defensive plays or winning battles–but those two alone aren’t good enough.

In those four stretches of scoring, de la Rose showcased a variety of tools that once made me so optimistic about his offensive upside: A knack for finding open ice and shooting lanes complemented by a powerful shot; a compact, smooth stride complemented by coordinated in-stride stickhandling; an ability to protect the puck in traffic complemented by a desire to drive the net; and the spells of creativity complemented by crafty vision.

However, these tools are all undermined by other aspects: de la Rose’s shot lacks accuracy and release speed; a lack of confidence has all but evaporated the controlled exits and entries that de la Rose used to make with ease; and the odd spell of creativity is now limited to a few nice passes in the AHL.

Perhaps the greatest concern of all: De la Rose isn’t scoring in the AHL. If a player can’t produce in the AHL, they definitely cannot be expected to do so in the NHL.

Don’t Declare de la Rose a Bust, Yet

Despite these legitimate concerns, I’m not ready to declare de la Rose a bust. Here’s why:

(1) Age: He’s 21. For reference, he’s two months younger than Michael McCarron and almost a year younger than Charles Hudon.

(2) Scoring spurts: Against his peers (U-18s, U-20s) de la Rose showcased that his puck skills are above-average for his age group, if not considerably in certain (albeit, limited) instances. When de la Rose is producing in the AHL, he displays a shot, vision, and in-stride puck handling that are above-average for the AHL.

(3) Confidence: He’s stuck playing “mistake-free hockey” as a product of playing against men from a young age. His attention to the defensive aspect of the game is undeniably admirable, but his avoidance of anything other than low-risk plays handicaps his ability to create offence. It may sound obvious, once de la Rose makes one skilled play, he completes more and more, which turn into full games. But an NHL recall or the season’s end put a halt to this confidence. And then the process of regaining it begins once again.

(4) Role: If there has been one constant for de la Rose it’s when he’s scoring, he’s the complementary piece on a line with skilled offensive players who can utilize his ability to find quiet ice. When he’s not scoring, he often finds himself lower in the lineup.

(5) Coaching: He’s stuck in the coaching paradox: He isn’t scoring and therefore hasn’t earned a promotion, but he won’t score until he gets promoted.

Essentially, he’s too young and talented to give up on so early. External factors like role and coaching combine with de la Rose’s lack of confidence in his skills to hamper his offensive production.

Conclusion

De la Rose currently finds himself on a line with Stefan Matteau and Michael McCarron. A skilled line, but too much grinding and cycling for their own good. Given de la Rose’s past history of scoring with more natural playmakers, perhaps aligning him with Scherbak and/or Hudon would be a better fit.

Despite the individual success the IceCaps are enjoying, they’re fifth in their division with a .500 winning percentage. They need to make adjustments, and getting de la Rose going would be a good start.

If there’s one sentiment to take from this article, it is this:

It’s too early to declare de la Rose a bust, as there are fair reasons why he hasn’t produced at the AHL level, but there’s legitimate reason to be concerned.

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One Response to It’s Too Early to Give Up on Jacob de la Rose

  1. Actually it is. Montreal has enough depth forwards who play a defensive game. de la Rose will never be a dynamic scorer, or even someone that can be counted on to chip in even 15 goals a year. There are far more serviceable forwards: Scherback, Carr, Hudon and McCarron who all have higher ceilings and will likely be better goal scorers. Depth is always great to have but Montreal has enough defensively sound forwards. They need players who can score and de La Rose doesn’t have it.

    jd November 21, 2016 at 1:21 am Reply

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