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As far as late-round draft picks have gone, Jake Evans has been a nice success for the Habs, going from a seventh-round selection to a regular.  But heading into next season, the 27-year-old has a lot to prove.

Let’s look back at the 2021-22 campaign.  Evans, who then-GM Marc Bergevin had just given a three-year, $5.1 million extension, scuffled through the first half of the season.  After Martin St. Louis took over, however, he was stronger down the stretch, putting up 17 points in 35 games while logging a little over 15 minutes a night.  It looked as if he might have turned the corner and showed that he could be more of a third-line option for the Canadiens.  That would have been great from a depth perspective…and perhaps from a trade one.

But things went in the opposite direction last season.  It’s not that he wasn’t playing all that much out of the gate (he averaged nearly 14 minutes per game in October and November), it’s that he couldn’t get much of anything going offensively.  He had just two assists in that stretch and unfortunately for both him and the Habs, it was a sign of things to come.

While Evans wasn’t exactly a high-end offensive threat the year before, it’s safe to say he took a step back more or less across the board in the offensive zone.  The possession stats were down, goal differential, expected goals, scoring chances, you name it and it was down.  He was a little better when he returned from a lower-body injury late in the season but at that point, there wasn’t anything left to play for so it’s typically unwise to glean much from that.

Heading into training camp next month, Montreal has a surplus of centres, something they really haven’t had in the past.  Nick Suzuki, Sean Monahan, Kirby Dach, Christian Dvorak (when healthy; he might miss the first few games), and Alex Newhook are all natural middlemen with Evans making it six for four spots in the lineup.  At this point, many expect Newhook to start on the wing with one of Monahan or Dach being the other but Evans can’t really feel too secure about his spot in the middle.

Frankly, Evans shouldn’t be too comfortable about his long-term spot with the Canadiens.  At this point, Suzuki and Dach seem to be the top two centres of the short-term future at least and expectations are relatively high for Owen Beck who is projected to provide several of the attributes that Evans can provide.  Dvorak is under contract for 2024-25 as well and with a $4.4 million cap hit, he probably isn’t going anywhere either.

At $1.7 million, Evans doesn’t have an overly high price tag but if he’s unlikely to move higher on the depth chart, his future with the organization starts to come into question.  A good start to next season could actually expedite his departure as his contract would then be viewed as an asset and assuming Montreal isn’t in the playoff mix, he’s someone that GM Kent Hughes would likely move.

Evans, as a result, has a lot to prove heading into 2023-24.  He needs to prove to himself that he can get back to the level of being an important secondary producer after a year to forget.  He needs to show 32 general managers around the NHL that he’s worthy of having around, whether that’s in Montreal or elsewhere.  And he needs to do this with a spot on the depth chart that could see him playing around 10-12 minutes a night.  In the grand scheme of things, this won’t be a key storyline for the Canadiens this coming season but it’s one that I’m intrigued to see play out.