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November 20, 2021

The Analysis: A deep look at Jake Karabela’s game

Jake Karabela wasn’t slotted within FCHockey’s Preliminary ranking for the 2022 NHL Draft, but that doesn’t mean that the Guelph Storm forward is flying under the radar.

Far from it.

Karabela was a star on the U16 AAA Guelph Jr. Gryphons in 2019-20, and one of my favourite players coming out of the SCTA in the 2020 OHL draft. He is still a dangerous offensive player whose hallmark is his awareness and ability to read defensive coverages and slip into high danger scoring areas in the offensive zone. 

His 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 16 gamse can attest.

And, as you can see by the clip below, Karabela (No. 10) can still drag and shoot the puck very well in the OHL. 

Hockey IQ/Awareness

Karabela’s best attributes are his hockey IQ and awareness. He is always surveying the ice and knows how to read defensive coverages to slip in between checks.

As you can see in the clip below Karabela watches three Kitchener defenders go into the corner and slowly creeps into the high slot, recognizing that there is a lot of open ice available in front of the net. The end result is him getting a quality scoring chance late in the third period of a tied game. 

Transitional Awareness

Karabela’s awareness in transition is also strong and he is a good neutral zone defender because of it.

In the clip below, Karabela keeps his head up leaving the offensive zone, moves into a passing lane, intercepts a pass, and quickly sends it over to his weakside defender who has tons of time and space to get the zone. His awareness leads to a quick one-touch pass and a controlled offensive zone entry for the Storm.

Playmaking through the Neutral Zone

As previously stated, Karabela’s awareness makes him a strong playmaker.

In the clip below, Karabela picks off an errant pass at his own blue line. With his head up he recognizes that his linemate Matthew Poitras has a step on both Sault Ste. Marie defenders, and he hits him with a quick up-ice stretch pass to send him in on a breakaway for a high quality scoring chance.

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Offensive Zone Playmaking

Karabela’s awareness in the offensive zone allows him to make plays that create time and space for his teammates.

As you’ll see in the clip below, Karabela takes a pass and uses his edges to pivot and control the puck away from pressure. In doing so, he also draws in two Kitchener defenders, putting them out of position in front of the net. This gives his teammate Braeden Bowman more time to get a shot off, resulting in a goal for the storm.

Karabela’s quick heads-up pivot to protect the puck and give him more time is what makes this play happen and is translatable to something that you see NHL players do when they are in the bumper position on the power play (John Tavares, for example, does this same play a lot for the Toronto Maple Leafs).

It will be interesting to see if Karabela will be able to pull these types of moves off under tight-checking NHL defensive coverage. 

Karabela is good at getting to open ice off the cycle, too.

This gives him time and space and really helps his playmaking abilities in the offensive zone as he will typically buy himself a couple more seconds with the puck which allows him to out-wait defenses just enough to make a crisp pass to an open teammate.

In the clip below, Karabela surveys the ice and sees his options. In doing so he recognizes the Rangers’ defensive coverage and notices that they are playing too high for a four-man box formation, with no defenders in front of the net. As Rangers forward Francesco Pinelli leans in with his stick to try and cut off the puck, Karabela sends a perfectly timed pass to an open teammate in front of the net, who almost scores.

High-Danger Scoring Areas

Another one of Karabela’s greatest strengths is his ability to play in-between checks in high-danger scoring areas in the offensive zone like the high slot. While the shot map below is based off a small sample size (six games), it highlights that Karabela likes to shoot the puck around the home-plate area, and he is very good at getting open to generate effective shots on net from that area. 

InStat

To further highlight this strength for Karabela, you can see in the clip below that he positions himself in-between Rangers defenders. He uses his strength on his edges to take a hit and push off to keep himself square to the net and open to receive a pass.

As the play moves towards the blue line, he stays in-between checks and opens up his body to be able to tip a shot or receive a pass and put the puck on net. This leads to a quality scoring chance for the Storm. 

The clip below highlights just how easily Karabela finds open ice in the low slot by using his awareness and quick burst acceleration from his edges.

Off the faceoff, he drives through Kitchener’s center to get a quick shot on net. From there he cycles the puck down low and slips in-between Rangers defenders as the play moves to the blue line and he almost gets a tip on his teams point shot. As the play moves from low-to-high again, he looks up and notices that Kitchener is watching the play from the point and Guelph’s quick cycle has left all of Kitchener’s defenders stuck on the left side of the ice.

Karabela capitalizes on this defensive breakdown and positions himself in the low slot where he has a few seconds of open ice without attracting coverage. This results in him getting a couple of very good chances off a rebound in front of the net. 

Defensive Zone Positioning

One of the main areas Karabela can improve is his defensive zone positioning.

In his own end, he covers more like a center than a winger and when he is playing on the wing, he finds himself gravitating towards the center of the ice and playing down too low in the zone. As you can see in the clip below, Karabela gets caught puck-watching just a second too late and doesn’t anticipate the play moving around the boards to his side of the ice.

His positioning in the middle of the ice also puts him just a second too late to the loose puck and he loses the battle to Sault Ste. Marie’s pinching defender. 

The following clip also highlights this point as Karabela stops skating and gets caught flat-footed while puck watching. This results in him misreading the play breakdown and he ends up crashing into his own teammate, which sets up a quality scoring chance for the Greyhounds from the high slot. 

This last clip also highlights some of Karabela’s areas for improvement in the defensive zone.

The play starts out with Karabela puck watching and not head-checking to notice coverage closing in on him along the boards. As a result, he loses the battle for the puck and when faced with an opportunity to help his defenseman and strip the puck away from Tyler Savard.

He watches the puck and doesn’t engage, which lets the play continue. As the play continues he doesn’t move his feet and cut off the right side of the ice, which lets Savard walk out along the top of the circle and easily get around Karabela near the blue line. As the puck moves down low, Karabela gets out of position and goes to the front of the net instead of covering his wing and Savard gets another shot off.

Near the end of the clip, as the Storm fail to get the puck out, Karabela gets caught flat-footed and gets walked by Bryce McConnell-Barker as he tries to make a play on the puck. The clip ends with Karabela continuing to puck-watch in the center of the ice and he fails to get high on his wing cover the defender, Connor Toms, who makes a quick heads-up pass to Lucas Brzustowski, giving him a quality scoring chance from the point. 

This being said, I do believe that Karabela will get better defensively as the season continues. He is used to playing center throughout his hockey career and this is evident in how he covers defensively as a winger.

If Karabela can learn how to defend as a winger and put himself in better positions to defend, I believe that he will develop better defensive anticipation for his role and little habits like consistently moving his feet while covering in his own end will come.

Projection

Going off his short sample size so far, Karabela has the skills of a late-first, early-second round talent if he can continue at the hot pace he started at. Karabela is a strong playmaker who can hit his teammates in stride with up-ice stretch passes.

In the offensive zone, he reads defensive coverages well and perfectly times passes to take defenders out of the play. Karabela also has good shot selection and consistently puts himself in areas to score by using his awareness to get to open ice and play in-between checks.

He is strong on his skates and is hard to move out of the play when he is in position as he has shown that he can take a hit to make a play at the OHL level. He is quick in transition and defends well in the neutral zone with his ability to move into passing lanes and intercept breakout passes. His hockey IQ/awareness and ability to consistently get to open ice is ahead of his peers and he helps the Storm generate quality scoring chances whenever he is on the ice.

The one thing that will hold Karabela back from transitioning to the next level is his ability to defend on the wing. If he can learn how to defend as a winger, this will strengthen his overall defensive capabilities by giving him experience defending in multiple different situations that he is not accustomed to.

This will help him learn how to position himself in unscripted situations in the defensive zone such as defensive breakdowns. It will also create more opportunities for him in the NHL if he does not transition into being a center at the next level.

Overall, Karabela is a player to watch for the 2022 NHL draft as he finishes his first OHL season. 

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