Travalgia: Rehabbing Jayden Struble looks forward to a healthy soph season
Ek's note: Our own Anthony Travalgia's exclusive interview with Habs 2nd round pick Jayden Struble is below. Great piece...
After being selected in the second round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, Jayden Struble’s freshman season at Northeastern University was one that didn’t go quite to plan.
Thanks to two torn groins suffered at development camp with the Canadiens over the summer, Struble was forced to miss Northeastern’s first three games of the 2019-20 season before finally making his collegiate debut in a 2-2 tie against Holy Cross on October 19th.
Struble would go on to play 21 more games for the Huskies before enduring a high ankle sprain in a February game against Maine.
It was later announced that Struble would miss the remainder of the Huskies season, a season that like Struble’s, was ended prematurely as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of the remainder of the NCAA season.
The Huskies were scheduled to take on UMASS Amherst in the Quarterfinals of the Hockey East Tournament.
“Really well, I just keep progressing with the rehab and physical therapy. Seems like pretty much every other week, every week I try something new and I’m able to do more stuff,” Struble told HockeyBuzz Thursday. “Recently been able to roller blade and stuff like that. So it’s definitely encouraging that I can skate again in some way even if it’s just roller blading, but it’s coming along good.”
Struble had just recently moved from his family home in Cumberland, Rhode Island to the Boston area to better fit his rehab schedule. Now living with teammate Riley Hughes, Struble is more in tap with Northeastern as he inches back to 100%.
With stay-at-home orders in effect in most states, rehabbing an injury during a global pandemic is certainly much more difficult to do than it would be under normal circumstances. The situation at hand and being closer to campus were two big factors behind his move.
“That was part of the move, now it’s just a lot easier,” Struble said of his rehab. “I mean it’s definitely hard, but Northeastern has been doing a good job of staying updated with me and sending me more rehab and keeping a close leash on me in that aspect.”
Northeastern initially deemed Struble’s injury as lower-body with some reports narrowing it down to a high ankle sprain, something Struble was able to confirm to HockeyBuzz.
“It was a high ankle sprain, but I don’t know, there was a couple different things going on there that took a bit longer, but pretty much back to full health,” said Struble.
Struble is no stranger to bright lights and certainly has thrived on the big stage in the past. As a kid, Struble participated in arguably the two biggest sports tournament a kid can play in: the Little League World Series and the Quebec Pee Wee Tournament.
Although Struble has matured since playing in those two tournaments at such a young age, he says the experiences learned in both are something he still holds with him as an 18-year old college student.
“I think it definitely helps. That, and I played in the Q [Quebec Pee Wee] tournament when I was younger. Two big stages when you’re that young. It kind of helps when you get on that big stage like ‘I’ve been here before when I was way younger,’” said Struble who played first base for Cumberland in the Little League World Series
“It’s kind of the nerves of maybe playing your first college hockey game in front of a lot of people or again, that whole draft, having all that spotlight, it’s made it a little easier.”
Struble entered the 2019 NHL combine ranked 48th overall among North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting. Going into the combine, Struble set his expectations sky high and he undoubtedly delivered. Struble finished first in four of the 18 tests including the Wingate test, the bench press test, the standing long jump, and the strength test.
As humble as Struble may be, he wasn’t really surprised with how well he did at the combine.
“I came in really prepared, I knew I was going to be top and I expected myself to be top in a lot of those, so it was definitely a satisfying performance and I was proud of it,” said Struble. “But yeah, I wouldn’t say it took me by that much of a surprise.”
Struble credits trainer Korey Higgins of Brian McDonough’s Edge Performance Systems in Foxboro, Mass for preparing him for the combine. The Edge Performance Systems facility is usually host to athletes from all kinds of sports including Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots. As a lifelong Patriots fan, Struble was blown away by Edelman’s work outs.
“It’s crazy, I mean there’s more guys like that. There’s Edelman, there’s definitely a couple of more I have seen. They’re nice guys, they’re just there to work out like everyone else,” said Struble. “And to see their work outs, it’s pretty impressive. Especially Edelmans, seeing his legs and how big he is. His physical stature is pretty impressive. Definitely pretty cool.”
In the weeks and days leading up to the draft, Struble had conversations with over 20 NHL teams, some more frequent and in-depth than others. Despite having a handful of conversations with the Canadiens throughout the process, Struble admitted he was a bit surprised with it was Montreal with the 46th overall pick that called his name.
“Yeah, actually I was [surprised]. I mean obviously on that day and leading up to it there’s a lot of talk and it almost never really goes where you think it’s going to go. I was talking to a couple of teams maybe a little bit more than Montreal,” said Struble.
“But once your name gets called, that’s your team and you’re pumped either way. Definitely a cool experience. Little surprised it was Montreal, but I’m glad it was.”
Growing up just under an hour away from TD Garden, Struble grew up a Boston Bruins fan, idolizing center Patrice Bergeron. With Struble being drafted by Montreal, it’s time for family and friends to jump to the other side of one of hockey’s most historic rivalries.
“Even my family was like imagine—I think right before I got drafted it was like ‘imagine if Montreal picks you’ and then they pick me. But as soon as that happened, they were all on board,” said Struble. “My brother has got Montreal jerseys and everything. Everyone was really pumped and I mean my buddies kind of gave me a hard time but deep down their happy for me. It’s just more jokes, and I actually take it to the heart.”
The excitement of being drafted and attending his first development camp quickly faded when adversity hit and Struble’s groin injury kept him off the ice.
The challenge of being injured, rehabbing the injury and the summer courses he was taking to finish high school caused one stressful summer for Struble. But being the competitor he is, Struble battled through the adversity and did what he had to do to not only finish his summer courses, but get himself back into hockey shape.
“Even tougher was being a junior in high school that year and doing all my classes online to be able to go to Northeastern in the fall. I couldn’t skate the rest of the summer after the camp, so it was definitely challenging,” said Struble.
“But I thought I did what I could pretty well and kind of tried to do everything I could outside of skating and obviously working out fully, but the exercises I was able to do, I felt like I was able to take advantage of them and I wasn’t that far behind when I came back.”
At the time Struble was drafted by Montreal, it was expected he would be heading to Canada to join the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League before enrolling at Northeastern in the fall of 2021.
But a simple ‘hey, come join us’ by Northeastern was all Struble needed to make the rare jump from high school prep hockey to college hockey.
“I was originally going to go to the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL because I knew a couple of kids going there. Riley Hughes who I’m living with right now was on that team the year before. I heard nothing but good things about it and I was excited to go. But as I was doing my senior year online in the summer anyways, kind of having that conversation with Northeastern being like ‘why don’t you just come here then’ and I was like ‘okay, why not.’ So that really was all that was to it. They just asked and I accepted.”
Struble started his collegiate career off by going pointless in his first eight games before ending the season with 10 points in 13 games. Between working his way back from a painful injury and being a freshman essentially jumping up two levels to make his NCAA debut, Struble felt like he did a good job of not letting the pointless streak get to him, instead understanding the factors surrounding him.
“First couple of games I didn’t get a lot of minutes just kind of soaked it all in and eventually towards the middle of the season I started to play more of my game and the points started to pick up a little bit. But I didn’t get too down on myself early. I knew I was a freshman coming in off some difficult circumstances, so I didn’t really let it get to me,” said Struble.
Every year on the first Monday of February in Boston, the Beanpot tournament kicks off. It’s a four-team tournament between the four major college hockey schools in Boston, played between Boston College, Harvard, Boston University and Northeastern.
Northeastern entered the 2020 Beanpot as back-to-back champions, ending a 30-year drought in 2018 with their first tournament victory since 1988.
Being able to play in the Beanpot was one of the reasons why Struble selected Northeastern.
“That’s a huge reason why I picked Northeastern, the Beanpot. I wanted a Boston school before I committed and every year in the past I have gone to the Beanpot with my buddies, definitely fun, a fun time when you realize you can be doing that in a couple of years and it definitely persuades you a little bit. It’s a really special time,” said Struble.
After skating in Northeastern’s 3-1 opening round victory over Harvard, Struble suffered his season-ending ankle injury against Maine, the lone game that separated Struble’s Beanpot debut and Northeastern’s eventual double overtime victory over Boston University in the final.
The championship contest was one of the more wild finals in Beanpot history as BU erased a two-goal third period deficit, forcing overtime with two seconds left in regulation. Northeastern would go on to earn their third straight Beanpot title thanks to a double overtime power play goal by fellow Canadiens’ prospect Jordan Harris.
“The first game was cool and watching the second game was cool, too. I mean that was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life no matter if I was playing or not,” said Struble. “It was a good experience and just looking forward to next year.”
Speaking of Harris, the other Canadiens prospect that currently calls Northeastern home has developed into a role model for Struble and his teammates both on and off the ice.
“Not just because of just the Canadiens ties, but he’s just the nicest kid ever, absolute pro. The way he does things and he’s a role model on the team, being an assistant captain this year,” Struble said of Harris. “Just kind of seeing how he goes about his work, his day, he’s a great guy to be around and try to emulate.”
Whether or not the 2020-21 college hockey season starts on time remains to be seen. But if it does, Struble says he will be back to full health and is looking forward to taking his game to the next level.
“Now that I can get healthy pretty soon, it’s just going to work. This is the longest I’ve had to prepare for a season since, I don’t even know. I was hurt two summers ago, too, I had something,” said Struble.
“So I’m really just looking forward to taking it to another notch and just taking the next step in my game next year and really start to contribute more and play a big time role.”