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Canadiens 2016 Draft Targets: Will Bitten being undersized could make him a late steal

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We all know what undersized prospects who are overlooked in the draft can end up doing, and Will Bitten might be the next such player.

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From the catastrophe that was the Flint Firebirds' inaugural season emerged Will Bitten. The ninth overall pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection was the Firebirds’ top scorer, and best player. At the U18s, Bitten showcased his versatility, playing a variety of roles throughout the lineup while demonstrating his high-end smarts and skill.

The Firebirds circus began when owner Rolf Nilsen felt his son Hakon wasn’t getting enough ice time, so he fired the coaching staff. The whole team walked out, son included, and the staff was reinstated. However, when Nilsen fired the coaching staff once again, the OHL stepped in and installed their own group to manage the team while removing Nilsen. Through all of this, Bitten consistently contributed, playing his speedy, buzzsaw style every shift.

Birthplace: Ottawa, Ontario

Shoots: Right

Position: Centre / Right Wn

Height: 5'10"

Weight: 163 lbs

Bitten isn’t particularly flashy, or as purely skilled as other undersized forwards in draft class, but he is just as effective. He’s a spark plug of sorts, immediately bringing energy and upping the tempo when he steps onto the ice. As a centre, he is counted upon with greater defensive responsibility, which he does admirably. While on the wing, he constantly forces defenders to overplay him because he’s a constant threat for a breakaway or lead an odd-man rush.

The explosive forward's best asset is his playmaking ability. Although smaller than your average hockey player, he is extremely combative, and thrives in the corners and along the boards where he can make quick passes through traffic. He also possesses a good saucer pass, and the ability to dish off the backhand.

Bitten's quick hands and deft release make him a scorer when left alone with the goalie. He also emerged as a decent medium range threat throughout the season, demonstrating great shooting accuracy. However, he will need to get more power behind his shots.

He was far and away the offensive leader for Flint, possessing a 17-point lead on the rest of the team, in addition to a 14 primary-point lead. He was an all-situations player, landing on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Although he spent the majority of the season at right wing, he did play a fair bit of centre, and perhaps would've played more if he didn't struggle in the faceoff dot.

Scouting

Scott Wheeler

Drafted seventh overall into the OHL by Plymouth. Scored a big goal in Canada’s Group A action against Sweden in this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament on route to a gold medal. Registered 11 points in five-game streak to start the month of November. Smooth skater who isn’t afraid to hop up into the rush, carry the puck deep into the offensive zone or take it to the net. Works effectively along the boards. Hits extremely hard, can level players with their heads down but needs to avoid leaving his feet. Stops up or twists and turns when gap closes which allows him to hang onto the puck and create with his skill. Extremely quick on his edges, buzzes around the ice. Can be aggressive with his stick and will be prone to taking slashing and hooking penalties if he doesn’t curb it. Needs to work on his faceoffs, gets out-muscled in the circle. Has the skill to be a top 20 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Elite Prospects

A smart offensive catalyst that consistently displays outstanding work ethic, elite hockey sense, and an ability to stay ahead of the play in all three zones. Very naturally gifted skater that moves around the ice with ease. Excels in pressure situations and uses his vision to predict where the puck is going to be, and proactively gets his body into a position where he can either take it away or take off up the ice. Offensively, he has a very creative streak, and knows what kinds of plays he can make in all situations; he also has an exceptional release on his shot, which he can get off quickly. Defensively, he is a buzzsaw that will not let up on the opposition, creating problems for them by causing turnovers and playing strong positionally. Will Bitten has all of the tools to become a very dangerous two-way forward that can produce strong numbers at the next level.

Ranking

Future Considerations: 26th

Draft Analyst: 20th

Draft Buzz: 25th

Craig Button: 29th

Central Scouting, NA Skaters: 43rd

Thoughts

The statistics don’t fare particularly well against other undersized OHLers such as Alex DeBrincat or Adam Mascherin; however, I believe that he’s in a similar vein prospect-wise as them. Although DeBrincat and Mascherin are better goal scorers, Bitten’s ability to make decisions on the fly, defensive play, and playmaking are better. It is also important to keep in mind the constant problems that Flint had this season, as well as Bitten’s lesser supporting cast.

Additionally, his even-strength production is right on par with Logan Brown, Alexander Nylander, Michael McLeod, and Max Jones. However, that is not to say he is the same quality of a prospect as the former two.

There is cause for concern in Bitten's shooting percentage. He’s not a high-volume shooter, and in fact prefers to pass over shoot, but shooting at 20.5% is high even for OHL standards.

Despite the concerns, he is one of the most intriguing prospects in the NHL Draft. He’s a determined, energy-filled player with high-end hockey sense, while size appears to be the biggest detriment to his draft ranking.

Although Bitten would be a big reach for the Canadiens at ninth, he would be a tremendous pick at 39th, or could be an interesting trade-down option for late in the first round.