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Bringing the heat

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – It hasn’t taken Jacob De La Rose long to prove he’s got what it takes to play on the NHL stage.

Just four games into his budding career, the 19-year-old Swede is quickly turning heads in Montreal with his size, speed and playmaking ability, while steadily earning plenty of respect along the way.

“He’s been doing great so far. I know for myself, personally, it was pretty tough coming in and playing. You’ve got to play with emotion. You’ve got to have fun with it. That’s what he’s doing,” praised fellow young gun, Alex Galchenyuk, who, like De La Rose, made his NHL debut with the Canadiens at a relatively young age. “He’s a pretty tough guy to play against. He’s strong on the puck. He’s been reliable offensively and defensively. He’s also done a pretty good job on the faceoffs. It’s nice to see younger players come here, play their role and have success.”

De La Rose’s success is particularly astounding when you consider that he made the jump to North America just six months ago, suiting up for the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs after plying his trade solely in his home country up until the start of the 2014-15 campaign. Despite the particularly steep learning curve that comes with making the move to the pro ranks on this side of the pond, the Canadiens’ 13th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft hasn’t been showing any signs of slowing down.

“I feel like I can play here. I feel like I’m good enough to play here. It’s getting better and better, so I have a really good feeling about it,” explained De La Rose, who put up six goals, 11 points and a plus-7 differential in 37 games with the Bulldogs this season, while also captaining the Swedish contingent to a fourth-place finish at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship. “Over the years I’ve been playing with older guys all the time. One thing that I’ve always been good at is adapting to who I’m playing with and who I’m playing against. I’m trying to prove that I belong out there. That’s all I can do.”

So far, so good. After throwing his 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame around to the tune of five hits in his NHL debut on February 3 against the Buffalo Sabres, and logging a season-high 12:34 of ice time, De La Rose likely turned in his most memorable performance to date on Tuesday night versus Philadelphia on a line with Christian Thomas and Michael Bournival. Not only did the Canadiens’ No. 25 win 57.1 percent of his draws, but he also made a game-saving play in the extra frame.

“I think all players want to be out there as much as possible, and it’s the same for me. I’m trying to do the best I can with the opportunity that I have,” offered De La Rose, referencing head coach Michel Therrien’s decision to send him into the fray in overtime. “I backchecked and broke up the play [with Flyers forward Vincent Lecavalier]. I think all of the guys would’ve done the same thing. That was a good goal by Davey. It was a nice win.”

Therrien’s comments in his post-practice press conference on Wednesday suggest the versatile power forward will likely to see his fair share of playing time in similar situations from here on out.

“I had experience in working with an 18-year-old Jordan Staal [in Pittsburgh]. Jacob is a lot like that. I like what I’ve seen from De La Rose. He’s a guy who thinks the game. He’s always in good position. He’s a good skater. He can take his man out of the play to get the puck back. He’s been doing a lot of good things for a young man his age. I appreciate him a lot,” mentioned Therrien, who is clearly enjoying watching De La Rose learn the NHL game from the ground up. “We’re not putting any pressure on him to put up points. We want him to develop and to work on certain aspects of his game. Confidence at that age is very important.”

Fortunately, De La Rose is poised beyond his years, and his teammates are definitely taking notice.

“He’s playing well. I played with him in Hamilton. I think he’s adjusting well. Talking from experience, I know that those first few games in the NHL are hard and somewhat stressful. He’s doing good so far, though,” confirmed Thomas, another one of the Canadiens’ young guns making noise as of late. “Every member of the line complements each other well. We talk a lot on the ice and off the ice, too. We’re young and energetic.”

And, impactful, too.

“They’re two really good players and I like playing with them. We had a really good game against Philadelphia. We’ve got to start over on Thursday against Edmonton and play good again,” concluded De La Rose. “I know what I can do out there. I’m just trying to play my game. That’s the only thing that I can do.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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