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Catching the Torch: Points don’t tell the whole story for Michael Pezzetta

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A weekly update on the progress of the Canadiens’ prospects.

2016 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images

Each week we will take an in-depth look at one young member of the organization, while providing an overview on performances over the last seven days of players below the NHL level. This includes players at the junior (CHL, USHL, etc.) and collegiate (NCAA) levels, as well as professional (AHL, ECHL) ranks.

Prospect Spotlight: Michael Pezzetta, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

After being selected in the sixth round by the Montreal Canadiens last June, 18-year-old Michael Pezzetta hasn’t had the start he’d hoped for to begin the two-year period he has to try to earn a professional contract before Montreal relinquishes his rights.

His early season was disrupted by a four-game suspension for a headshot, and he has now managed just six points through eighteen contests; below even last year’s pace of 28 points in 64 games. Offensively, he hasn’t lived up to what some were pegging as a possible breakout season.

However, there is far more to Pezzetta than the numbers he puts up on the scoreboard. While his dirty headshot was uncharacteristic of his playing style, Pezzetta is known as an intense physical specimen, and it’s something he takes pride in.

“I like being the guy who can go out there and shut down the other team’s top lines. I like being the guy who’s going to go out and sacrifice his body to help the team win,” he told The Sudbury Star prior to this season.

Those wins haven’t come easy, as his Sudbury Wolves are off to a 10-12-1 start, but Pezzetta is one of the leaders in the locker room trying to get things headed in the right direction. After serving as an alternate captain last season, the 6’1” centreman had hoped to earn the ‘C’ this year, telling the Star: “I think I’m ready for that opportunity, and I’m strong enough mentally and have the respect from the guys [...] but again that’s up to the coaching staff and the guys, so we’ll see what happens.”

While that honour eventually went to Arizona Coyotes 2015 third-rounder Kyle Copobianco, Wolves’ head coach Dave Matsos values Pezzetta’s role within the group.

“I think he’s capable of expanding his leadership role to a higher level. I think he's capable of taking the penalty kill over, taking the faceoff circle over when it's most importantly needed,” Matsos said in a Star interview. “When we're down a goal and we have a faceoff in the last minute of the game, or we're up a goal and we're protecting the lead, he's got to be that guy. With his size and his competitive nature, he's got to take over that faceoff circle. That's something we need to address and work on with him, but we think he's capable of being that guy.”

Pezzetta has been inconsistent on the faceoff dot this season, rolling at about a 50% win rate, but that is an improvement over last year’s 46%.

One area where his consistency is unwavering is his off-ice commitment to community values, as he was named the Wolves’ Community Player of the Month for October.

Notably, he was a part of this year’s Big Nickel Hockey tournament in Sudbury: a Major AAA event dedicated to the memory of the late D.J. Hancock, who was killed by a drunk driver at the age of 18. Pezzetta had played in the tournament previously, and it was how he first got to know the city he now considers a home.

“[...]To see the love and support the people in this community have for hockey, it was outstanding, and having the experience of playing in this tournament was great,” Pezzetta recalled to The Star earlier this month. His involvement this year was mainly in the form of meeting and speaking with players, organizers, and volunteers.

Coming into this week, the Toronto-native had only one point (an assist) in his past nine games. Even though the club managed only a single win, Pezzetta was a top performer in the last three games. After a typical hardworking shift included him setting up linemate Dmitry Sokolov for a goal in an 8-2 loss Thursday, Pezzetta saw things turning around despite another loss the next night.

“I think all in all we’re playing good hockey, we just got to get some bounces going our way,” he said to Sudbury.com following a loss to Hamilton.

And he was right. On Sunday, the Wolves triumphed 5-3 over Kingston, and Pezzetta played a big role, collecting assists on both the game-winner — a third-period power-play marker by David Levin — and the empty-net insurance marker. It was his second multi-point night of the season, after he had six all of last year. It was the kind of night he’ll need to have more often if he’s to show real progress towards the goal of earning an NHL deal.

“Obviously, I’m always working on my strength and speed in the gym and on the ice, but this year I really [want] to focus on my puck work, as well, so I have been working two to three times a week with a skills coach. I think going to the next level, that’s what I have to work on to get there.”

Performances from November 14 - 20, 2016

CHL

Mikhail Sergachev hasn’t had an explosive start to his OHL season after returning from his stint with the Canadiens, though he has been an impactful member of the Windsor blue line. In a 1-0-2 week for the Spits, Sergachev was paired with Logan Stanley on Thursday (as he has been frequently this year) but was held pointless in a 3-2 overtime loss. Windsor bounced back the following night, with Sergachev on the ice for the 3-on-3 overtime winner scored by top prospect Gabriel Vilardi.

Moved to a duo with 20-year-old right-hander Jalen Chatfield, Sergachev collected his only point of the week on Sunday, assisting on a power-play marker that gave his side a 2-0 advantage through 40 minutes. Despite a strong game from the rearguard, which included a tied-for-team-high three shots, the Spitfires couldn’t hold their lead, and fell to the London Knights 3-2 in overtime.

Sergachev’s teammate Jeremiah Addison was unable to add to his point total in the three games, though his line with Julius Nättinen and Cole Carter was productive with three of the team’s goals.

Victor Mete continues to make a case for darkhorse consideration for Team Canada at the World Juniors, with another strong performance Friday night. He finished a +3 with an assist and three shots in an 8-3 win over North Bay.

Paired with 19-year-old Brandon Crawley, he did one better on Saturday, assisting on London’s third and sixth goals in an 8-2 victory against Niagara, with two shots and a +2 rating. His four-game point streak was snapped Sunday, though he again earned a +1 as he was on for the game-tying goal to force overtime with just over five minutes to play.

Will Bitten began the week pushing his point streak to four games (2-5—7) setting up a pair of Matthew Strome’s goals: the game-opener, and the winner in overtime. Bitten was buzzing again Friday with a team-high six shots, but saw his streak snapped in a 3-1 win over Sudbury. He had his toughest game Saturday in a 4-1 loss to Sault Ste. Marie.

His already-slim odds of cracking the Canadian World Junior roster as a center were likely dealt a deathblow Sunday with Dylan Strome’s reassignment to Erie by the Arizona Coyotes. Yes, the two would be in very different roles, but nonetheless it’s unlikely there will be sufficient space for Bitten as a depth forward.

Noah Juulsen’s Silvertips started the week with a big win 6-1 over Calgary, with the pointman picking up a helper on a power-play tally early in the second that held up as the game-winner. The Everett captain was held off the board in the team’s other two games, both 2-1 losses, though the squad remains on top of the WHL’s U.S. Division.

Matt Bradley has been on a tear for the high-scoring Medicine Hat Tigers, who rank second in the WHL in goals for. Bradley was named third star in a 5-2 win Tuesday for scoring what would ultimately be the game-winner midway through the second, and adding another goal — his tenth of the season — early in the third.

On Thursday, he again played a starring role, scoring the game’s opening goal as well as his team’s fifth, while also setting up the second and seventh in a 7-2 victory. His four points gave him thirteen over an eight-game point streak, which was snapped on Sunday, though he did score the winner in a shootout.

Simon Bourque played in the Canada-Russia Series for two games this week, finishing a +1 with no points. He was given a game off to rest upon his return to Rimouski, but played in Saturday’s 8-3 loss against Rouyn-Noranda; a tough outing with no points and a -3 rating.

NCAA

It was a fairly quiet week for the Habs’ NCAA prospects overall. Jake Evans was held off the scoresheet in a pair of games against UMass Lowell, with the teams trading 4-1 victories.

Nikolas Koberstein and Alaska-Fairbanks had the week off, but will be in action against Michigan Technological University next Friday and Saturday.

Colin Sullivan played both Miami’s games for the second week in a row, now seeing more regular ice time than earlier in the season when he was on an in-and-out rotation. In a pair of ties against Denver, Sullivan finished with a single shot on goal as well as two blocked shots. He was on the ice with five minutes to play Saturday when Miami forward Ryan Siroky beat Tanner Jaillet to tie the game at two.

Casey Staum and Dubuque rolled over Cedar Rapids 4-0 Friday, before the defenceman had a strong game Saturday in a 5-4 overtime loss. Staum was on the ice when the Fighting Saints tied the game at four apiece with fewer than five to play in the third, and finished the night with four shots on goal, second most on his squad.

AHL/ECHL

The IceCaps nearly completed a perfect week, running out of gas Sunday afternoon in a listless third period against the Toronto Marlies, but still coming away with a 3-1-0 record despite roster disruptions due to call-ups by the Canadiens.

Nikita Scherbak remains a key offensive catalyst for the team, scoring the opening goal Tuesday in the game’s first minute against Binghamton, and then assisting on a Mark Barberio score that pulled the IceCaps back to within one in an eventual overtime victory Friday night versus the Rochester Americans. His line with Daniel Audette and Sven Andrighetto generated chances early and late on Sunday, but St. John’s couldn’t match Toronto’s legs in the shutout loss.

Jacob de la Rose finally showed some life offensively, with his two assists tripling his point total on the season. He is being given opportunities with offensive players like Mike McCarron and Stefan Matteau to try to get him going, but other than his typical sound play on the penalty kill is fairly unnoticeable in games.

Speaking of Stefan Matteau, the once highly regarded prospect is having a productive season as he tries to resurrect his career. Still only 22 years old, Matteau scored his sixth of the season in the third period Tuesday, nearly halfway to his AHL career high of thirteen, and that in just sixteen games.

IceCaps captain Max Friberg celebrated his 24th birthday Sunday (coincidentally sharing a birthday with Habs’ captain Max Pacioretty), but had his best game Saturday. The former World Juniors standout was named third star for setting up Markus Eisenschmid’s second-period goal, and then scoring the game-winner himself just less than 10 minutes later.

For more on the IceCaps play this weekend, check out the EOTP AHL Hub.

Goaltenders

Charlie Lindgren had yet another strong week, continuing to cement himself as a future NHL netminder. His numbers rank among the AHL’s best: ninth in goals-against average and sixth in save percentage. He was left out to dry in his only loss, stopping 37 of 39 shots in the second-most attempts he’s faced all season, earning him the game’s third star.

Michael McNiven collected a pair of wins, showing potential that should have him transition nicely to the AHL next year. McNiven is second in the OHL in GAA, and second in save percentage among those with more than three games played. The ‘tender was named first star on Friday in a 5-2 victory, a game which saw Owen Sound outshot 30-25 by Flint.

Zachary Fucale had a busy week in the ECHL, picking up a pair of wins for the Beast. He did little to help his personal stats, however, allowing six goals in two-and-a-half outings.

Hayden Hawkey and Providence College traded 5-4 wins with Northeastern this weekend. Hawkey has played every minute of every game for the Friars so far.