Looking at the national scoring leaderboard, there's some familiar names at the top. Boston University freshman sensation Jack Eichel is up there. Minnesota's Kyle Rau is up there. Robert Morris' Cody Wydo maybe isn't a household name, but it's no surprise to see him up there with his 71 career goals.
But leading them all is Minnesota State junior forward Bryce Gervais. He's scored nine goals, tied for best in the nation, and five assists, for a national-best 14 points so far this season. So how did Gervais end up at the top of the scoring table, and perhaps more importantly, can he stay up there?
Gervais is a junior forward out of Battleford, Saskatchewan. He played his junior hockey in the BCHL, first for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, before being traded to the Penticton Vees midway through his final year of juniors. As a freshman, he put up a 8-5-13 scoring line, and then doubled those numbers as a sophomore for 16-10-26.
He's somewhat generously listed at 5'10" 175 lbs. He's a left-handed shot that plays on the right wing, and also plays on Minnesota State's top power play and penalty kill units.
Asked to describe Gervais' play after last Saturday's 5-3 Minnesota State win over Bemidji State, Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings said: "He's got a knack for being in the right place, at the right time. He can shoot it really well, and his skating ability is hard to handle as a defender. Goal scorers just kind of find ways to put goals in the net. He's got a really good hockey mind."
Watching Gervais play on Saturday, it's not hard to see why he's having so much success this year. He didn't have the same big statistical game he had on Friday night when he scored two goals and two assists, but he picked up an assist in the game and it felt a lot more like he was unlucky not to have three or four points than lucky to get the one.
Of his nation-leading nine goals, four have come on the power play, which ties him for first in that category as well. Gervais is manning a spot in front of the net on Minnesota State's top power play unit. On a Maverick power play which features skilled playmakers like Matt Leitner, Jean-Paul LaFontaine, and Zach Palmquist, that's a role that provides a lot of goal-scoring opportunities. Over the past two seasons, Johnny McInnis and Eriah Hayes have both scored over 20 goals, and 10+ on the power play, while playing in that same role.
On Saturday, Gervais made his presence felt in front of the net by taking the eyes away from the goalie. Teddy Blueger scored a pair of power play goals in the first period on near-identical plays with wrist shots from the point. On both goals, Blueger credited Gervais for providing a good screen in front of the net.
He's also effective on the penalty kill. He has one short-handed goal this goal, and five over the course of his career. He's paired up with Matt Leitner on the PK unit, and when they get control of the puck in their own end, they're often looking to make an offensive play rather than just clearing the puck from the zone.
He gets the most out of the little size that he has. His best scoring chance of the night came when he used his speed to beat a defender wide, then protected the puck well using his body to drive hard to the net and create a scramble in front of the net. He tracks loose pucks well and isn't afraid to battle anyone for a puck. His quick, strong hands allows him to win a lot of puck battles and when he does, he's always looking to make a play or get the puck towards the net. His combination of quickness and hockey sense means that he's always around the puck and fighting to make something happen. He can also play with a bit of an edge to his game and finishes a lot of checks.
If there's been an issue with Gervais' play so far this year, it has been his consistency. Of his 14 points this season, 10 have come on Friday night compared to just four on Saturday night. "Because he plays at such a high pace, he exhausts a lot of energy," said Hastings. "But I thought he was consistent tonight. He was moving his feet and cause some problems for defenders."
Gervais probably won't lead the country in scoring the entire year. As it stands, he's only 10th in the country in points per game. But his hot start is no fluke. He's a very smart player and tough competitor that has developed into one of the more dangerous scoring threats in the country, and will likely stay close to the top of the scoring table all year long.