Catching The Torch: William Bitten breaks slump with a beautiful breakaway goal
Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.
Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL) and collegiate level (USHL, NCAA).
It feels like we have been talking about the ups and downs of William Bitten all season long. Inconsistency has plagued his production, even if we couldn't ever accuse him of not giving a consistent effort.
Bitten rarely takes as much as a shift off. He is all over the ice, competing for the puck in his zone and on the boards behind the opponent’s goal line. He is in front of the net taking multiple crosschecks to the back trying to jam a rebound in. He is flying through the neutral zone to beat the opposing defensive formation and looking to set up teammates as soon as he skates over the blue line.
Unfortunately, despite doing all those things, for long sequences it has not resulted in points for him.
After recording seven points in five games in the first round of the playoffs, a series the Hamilton Bulldogs won in five games, Bitten never got his name on the scoresheet in the second round.
In the first series, the line of Bitten, Braidon Saigeon, and Robert Thomas that was assembled specifically with crushing the Ottawa 67's in mind was effective, but it wasn't the main reason the Bulldogs came out on top.
Their power play has been operating at a staggering 34.0% since the start of the playoffs, and many of their victories were acquired through the team's dominance with the man advantage.
Against the Niagara IceDogs in the following series, the Bulldogs’ first line failed to produce a single five-on-five point for the first four games of the series. The chemistry that Bitten and Thomas had at the end of the season was gone. The duo wasn't driving results, and the coaching staff had to make changes. Perhaps having two players looking to set up others and carry the puck wasn't working as well with the tighter defensive structure they were now facing.
So Bitten was moved down to play with Mackenzie Entwistle and Matthew Strome in the third round; the trio that was the top line of the Bulldogs at the start of the season. It wasn't a guarantee of success considering that the team was at the bottom of the OHL in scoring when they were together earlier, but it meant that the skill among forwards was now spread as evenly as possible through the lineup.
This was successful in making the Bulldogs an even scarier team. They won their first two games against the Kingston Frontenacs by a combined score of 13-3, and look as powerful as ever as they make their last push to reach the final. With their victory in Game Three, they are now one win away from facing either Hayden Verbeek and the Greyhounds, or the Kitchener Rangers and their star, Adam Mascherin.
William Bitten also seems to have reawakened in this third round with a two-point performance in Game Two.
He got an assist on the power play by making a quick hook pass to Arthur Kaliyev as he was about to get hit on the half-wall. Kaliyev then gave the puck to Riley Stillman for a point shot that beat the Kingston goalie.
After missing a ton of breakaways since the start of the playoffs (which has also been a recurring issue for him through the season), Bitten finally buried one in style.
It started with a great defensive play, as he first stopped an entry attempt from the Frontenacs before sneaking behind the defence to receive the pass that led to the short-handed goal. It was just another occasion for Bitten to showcase how he can transform defence into offence when he is at the top of his game.
The move he pulled off on the goaltender was a combination of good hands and skating ability. He transformed a quick stop that completely fooled the goaltender into a change of direction by lifting up the blade of his left skate as he was decelerating, using it as a pivot to roof a backhander.
Bitten is definitely a skilled player. He displayed it time and time again this season, and this was just another example of what he can do. On Friday, he pulled off another great move on a defender to get in the offensive zone. It turned into a hooking penalty against Kingston.
But when it comes to putting the puck in the net, he still has to improve his finishing ability to constantly be able to turn his speed into goals. His role in the NHL will depend on it. The good news is that he has a model with the big club who did just that, and much later in his hockey career.
He doesn't have to look very far for inspiration.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL post-season stats
|Hayden Verbeek||C||OHL||Sault Ste. Marie||11||4||3||7|
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||10||1||5||6|
CHL season to date
|Hayden Verbeek||C||OHL||Sault Ste. Marie||67||30||31||61|
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||45||3||29||32|
NCAA/USHL season performance
|Jake Evans||C||Big Ten||Notre Dame||40||13||33||46|
|Ryan Poehling||C||NCHC||St. Cloud State||36||14||17||31|
Goalies season performance