BROSSARD - With the start to 2019-20 he had, you could understand why Jake Evans wasn't really busying himself with picturing what it would be like to be playing in the NHL.
After scoring 13 goals for 45 points in his rookie season with the AHL's Laval Rocket, Evans didn't find the back of the net until his 18th game of his sophomore campaign. But with plenty of encouragement from his Rocket teammates and coaches, the 23-year-old stayed the course through that tough stretch and has the results to show for it.
"At my lowest point this season, I probably wasn't thinking about [playing in the NHL], but I had a lot of great support in Laval. I had a lot of players tell me they've all been through that and that it was just going to make me stronger. The coaching staff there also believed in me and helped me out," shared Evans, who was leading Laval with 34 points (12G, 22A) at the time of his call-up to Montreal on Thursday. "A lot of credit goes to them."
Video: Jake Evans on his first NHL game
Evans made his NHL debut against the Anaheim Ducks, and seems to have put his early-season travails far in the rearview mirror. The rave reviews he earned from his head coach at the NHL level should serve as confirmation of that.
"He was really good yesterday," said Claude Julien of Evans, who saw 11:19 of ice time, registering two shots, two hits, one takeaway, and one blocked shot against the Ducks. "He had scoring chances, he skated well, he made the right plays. Often, players will score on those plays. I saw a good presence in front of the net. I saw good passes, which led to scoring chances. He did a lot of good things."
Evans found himself on the right of a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Max Domi and for Kovalchuk, the kid did just fine.
"I think he did really well for his first NHL game. He got that breakaway on his first shift. It would've been nice if he had scored," stated the 13-year NHL veteran. "But he looks solid, he was simple, but he played well."
Thursday night's tilt wasn't Evans' first taste of game action at the Bell Centre, mind you, as he had suited up for three exhibition contests this past fall. But the 6-foot-1, 181-pound forward can confirm that there's a world of a difference between preseason competition and playing for keeps in the throes of an NHL season.
"I think the biggest thing would just be the intensity of the games. Montreal's obviously pushing for the playoffs and a lot of teams they're going to be playing are also pushing, so obviously, the intensity is bigger," explained Evans. "Also, in preseason, you're usually having one or two lines that are probably going to the NHL, and now it's the full team. There's a lot more skill and a lot more experience."
After finding out he'd be on the roster against Anaheim, Evans quickly informed his dad, mom, and brother - who were in Vancouver, Toronto, and New York, respectively, at the time - and they just as quickly scrambled to get to Montreal to witness his big moment from up close.
It goes without saying that Evans was supremely appreciative of their efforts to share in his big day with him.
"It was cool having them there," admitted Evans, the Habs' seventh-round pick (207th overall) in 2014. "They brought you up, they supported you, they helped you out. It was a really good moment."
The Canadiens' next test in their quest for a playoff spot sees them facing the archrival Maple Leafs on Saturday at the Bell Centre. And though Evans isn't sure he'll draw into the lineup again, the Toronto native knows how special it would be if he did.
"It'd be awesome; it's the team I grew up watching and cheering for. It's obviously a pretty historic rivalry, and I'm sure the Bell Centre will be rocking," concluded Evans. "It'd be an honor to play in that game."
The Canadiens-Maple Leafs game is set for 7:00 p.m. at the Bell Centre on Saturday. For tickets to the game, click here.