I have trained for many years in the Royal Canadian Navy to hone my craft as a radar expert. This ensures everything, in and out of view, will be detected by my ship so that we can make the best tactical decisions. However, some things do fall out of sight of the instruments, hence the term ‘under the radar.’
Even in the highly intense media fishbowl that is the Montreal media environment, some things go undetected, or even ignored.
Much praise has sent in the direction of Carey Price in the past two weeks. In the first five games since he returned from injury, Price had a 5-0 record with one shutout, a .960 save percentage and a 1.20 goals against average. That earned Price the NHL’s nod as the second star of the week between November 27 and December 2.
The NHL honours for Price, his statistics and the Canadiens turnaround, moving into the playoff discussion, could distract the casual fan into believing that the team is just Price.
While it is true that a team is only as good as its star players, sometimes even star players need teammates to step up their play at opportune times. Mostly these players fly under the radar, simply playing their roles in such professional way that their consistent play is hardly noticed.
Enter this new periodic piece called “Under the Radar.” This new feature on All Habs Hockey Magazine will highlight a player or two whose play has been largely ignored.
Jacob De La Rose
Jacob De La Rose had been in and out of lineup all season long, playing almost exclusively on a fourth line when dressed. In his first 17 games this season De La Rose had zero points and was a minus-5. Despite his solid defensive play, this outcome was somewhat disappointing based on his resurgent play last season with the St. John’s IceCaps.
During his time in the AHL, De La Rose proved that he can provide quality two-way play using his 6-foot-3-inch, 210 pound frame to his advantage with aggressive puck retrieval along the boards. It’s fair to say that he continued this strong forecheck and board play in at the NHL level this season. Whether it was a lack of confidence or linemates who didn’t gel well together, all of his good effort yielded no positive offensive results.
When De La Rose was chosen to fill the slot left vacant by an injury to Jonathan Drouin, there was a very visceral reaction by fans and media alike. Much of this was simple ignorance about the talents of De La Rose and from making conclusions from select stat lines. Sadly, Quebec’s Mise-O-Jeu lottery piled on accepting bets on whether De La Rose would even score this season.
However, once taking the center spot between Alex Galchenyuk and Paul Byron, the 22-year-old thrived proving all the detractors dead wrong. De La Rose took full advantage of his opportunity being productive in a top-six role when centering two offensively-talented players.
In the first two games after taking over from Drouin, De La Rose had one goal, three assists, and a a plus-4 rating while averaging almost 13 and a half minutes per game. Despite the increased offense, his responsible defensive play continued.
With De La Rose capably assuming a much larger role, all other lines could remain intact. This provided some stability to a resurgent Canadiens offence.
With Drouin ready to return to the lineup, De La Rose will once again be relegated to fourth line and penalty-killing duties. However, he now has a surge of confidence given that he proved he belongs. This newfound confidence can be a boost to the fourth line that is now defining their identity.
Given his absence, David Schlemko was no more than a running gag for the first quarter of the season. Schlemko had not played a single minute in the preseason or regular season due to a wrist injury that eventually required surgery. Many had begun referring to him as the Canadiens’ Mr. Snuffleupagus.
Yet, upon his return, Schlemko lived up to his resume. He has provided a highly-effective defensive game and the ability to clear the defensive zone given his mobility and an excellent first pass. In five games played this season, Schlemko has yet to score a point, has a plus-7 rating, a Corsi For of 49.69 per cent while averaging 18:16 of icetime.
Sometimes, you simply need to tune out the clutter to improve the performance of your radar. When you ignore the daily repetitive narratives about the usual suspects, you can open your eyes to other players on the roster. This is what I attempted to do in this piece and will continue to do in this series.
In Jacob De La Rose and David Schlemko, I have presented two players who have made key contributions without receiving many accolades. For that reason, they are my inaugural ‘Under the Radar’ performers.