Let’s get this out of the way: The guy’s name sounds like a cross-between a Harry Potter spell and a Star Wars creature. Say it with me: HAL-beh-gah-walks. I’m not going to lie, it’s fun to say. I hope to say it for years to come, screaming it in joy from my seat in the Tank or at my TV. (Hopefully if it does cast a spell, it’s a favorable one).
While his enjoyable-to-yell name may not yet be a household one for Sharks fans, it certainly is for Moose Jaw Warriors fans. That tends to happen when a guy puts up 230 points in 143 WHL games over his last two years, 70 of which were goals last year. That total was the most in the WHL since the 1998-99 season and was enough to net Halbgewachs the CHL’s CCM Top Scorer Award for most goals across the WHL, OHL, & QMJHL. It also helps that he led the Warriors to their first ever Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy (the WHL equivalent of the President’s Trophy).
Did I mention that the kid’s nickname is “Magic Man”? While having a 101-point (50 goals, 50 assists) rookie season, then following that up with a 129-point (70 goals, 59 assists) year might earn a guy that moniker, we at Fear the Fin (and by “we” I mean “me”), are fully aware that the nickname most likely exists because “Halbgewachs” and “Abracadabra” are basically interchangeable as exclamations.
Just in case you see all those points and are penciling the kid onto the Sharks’ top line for the 2020-21 season, or in case you just dislike enthusiasm, I should note that Jayden’s goal bonanza last year was in his over-age WHL season (meaning he was 21 in a league mostly full of 17-19 year olds), which is neither an anomaly nor a reason to automatically dismiss the extraordinary goal-scoring plateau he reached. While over-agers do tend to over-perform, 70 goals in a season is still 70 goals. Then again, the last guy hit that mark in the WHL was Pavel Brendl and as you think “Who?” know that I’m thinking “Exactly.”
And now is where we talk about the mouse in the room: Jayden Halbgewachs is not a large man. He’s barely even an average-sized man. In fact, Jayden would be one of the smallest guys on my beer league team, much less an NHL team. He was a number one draft pick in the bantam draft to enter the WHL, so he’s not a late bloomer in terms of talent. But at 21, he’s not likely to bloom much further in size, save for what he can pack on in the weight room.
So does being 5-foot-8 spell doom for his potential success? Historically, players like Martin St. Louis, Theo Fleury, or Marcel Dionne are used as the example of small players who completely thrived in the NHL. But in today’s faster NHL, there are plenty such examples of effective, even dominant NHL forwards under 5-foot-9. Brad Marchand, Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Johnson, Cam Atkinson, and Jonathan Marchessault, just to name a few.
In fact, if you look at the excellent analysis by Byron Bader at NHLNumbers, while being undersized does mean you aren’t likely to be drafted into the NHL (Halbgewachs was signed as an undrafted free agent), it has no bearing on success in the NHL. Contrary to prevailing belief, smaller players who do make it to the show, show a greater percentage of becoming impact players.
The bottom line is that this season, Halbgewachs will get his first opportunity to play against men as he’ll start his first year in the AHL with the Barracuda. Far more important than his size, we’ll all find out together if his speed and offensive skills translate successfully in a faster, more mature game against adult defensemen. Is his speed enough to round the corner on AHL defensemen as easily as he did WHL D-men? Will he still be able to get open in scoring areas? Will his WHL shots beat AHL goaltenders? By mid-season we should have a good idea.
I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but Jayden Halbgewachs is not going to score 70 goals for the Barracuda. But hey, if he does, we are going to have a whale of time screaming his name at the Tank.
What we like
A player doesn’t become a goal-scoring machine without some desirable qualities. For Halbgewachs, his speed, quick release, and his impressive willingness to attack the net show a confident player with a fundamental array of goal scorer’s tools. Watching his highlight reel, not only do you learn that the Moose Jaw Warriors have the most eardrum-assaulting goal horn in human history, but you also see a player who has good hands in close and an unmistakable nose for putting the puck in the net.
Areas of improvement
What don’t you see in either highlight reel above or below? You don’t see lots of NHL caliber snipes from a variety of locations around the net. You don’t see deadly accuracy. You don’t see defenseman boxing him out in the way that they will at higher levels. He is not going to get so close to goalies so often. If he wants to score in the AHL, he’ll have to develop a consistently dangerous shot from further than three feet out.
Lastly, he’s going to have to pack on at least 20 pounds. Lacking height is one thing and may not be a problem, but weighing 165 pounds is another thing entirely. At that weight, guys like Zdeno Chara and Dustin Byfuglien can pick you up, pick their lunch out of their teeth with you, then send you like a paper airplane back into the neutral zone in one motion. If the Magic Man wants to avoid disappearing himself from relevance, he better be working with the San Jose training team starting this summer.
One highlight doesn’t really tell the story. So here’s several more. Watching this, it’s hard to miss the speed and the first two goals of the reel show how easily Halbgewachs routinely rounded the corner on WHL defenses.
Want more proof? How about this gem:
What’s remarkable about this goal is that Halbgewachs enters the zone down the left wing and cuts so far across the zone so quickly, that he ends up rounding the corner on the defense in front of the net from right to left. That takes wheels, folks.