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Catching the Torch: Simon Bourque maintaining offensive rhythm

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

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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: Simon Bourque, D, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

The Rimouski Oceanic may best be known as the CHL club once led by one Sidney Crosby, but this season they are finding dynamic offensive production from a more balanced approach. Despite only a .500 record to date, the team’s 74 goals are tied for the most among all QMJHL clubs, and the captain has been a big part of that.

Paired with undrafted 18-year old Charles-Edouard D’Astous, Bourque began the week scoring both his team’s goals in a 4-2 loss to Blainville-Boisbriand; the second two-goal night of his QMJHL career resulting in his being named second star despite finishing a -3. Bourque was then held pointless in a 3-2 loss Friday, before another multi-point (two assists) night Saturday saw him again take home the game’s second star, this time in a 5-3 victory.

Bourque’s 20 points in 19 games this season rank fourth among all QMJHL defencemen and third among all Oceanic skaters. The blue-liner will represent his league and country in the upcoming Russia-Canada Series, though he is likely a long-shot for inclusion in Team Canada’s final World Juniors selection camp.

His tremendous start to the season is in contrast to last year, when he was devastated to be cut by the Canadiens following the rookie tournament and before the start of training camp. Recording only four points in his first nine games, then-assistant coach Eric Dubois told RDS, “he didn’t really know how to take it. In his head, he was sure he’d at least be part of the main camp. When you’re so disappointed, your head isn’t in the game, and it’s hard to do your job. He wasn’t sharp mentally, and the worse things went, the more he tried to do too much.”

It took a visit from player development coach Martin Lapointe to snap the defenceman out of it and get him back to playing his own game. “It was the first time Martin came to see me play,” Bourque said in an RDS interview. “He talked to me after the game, and even though I had an idea of what the issues were, when you hear them from Martin Lapointe, it puts them into context.”

Dubois agreed that visit was a turning point for Bourque’s season, noting that from then on, “he understood what it meant to be a number-one defenceman. There’s times to jump in offensively, and times to hold back. Times to get physical, and times not to. When you’re playing 30 minutes a night, you need to manage your own game.”

This summer, Bourque came to camp as a returnee with a fresh attitude. A strong competitor, he mixed it up frequently with 2016 first-rounder Mikhail Sergachev. When asked about it by Le Courrier du Sud, Bourque took the high road, stating, “rrather than see him as a rival and the glass half empty, I see the addition as the Canadiens trying to get better. My job is to improve myself without focusing on others. We’re all competitive on the ice, but we compete with the utmost respect for each other.”

The 2015 sixth-round pick will turn 20 in January, meaning the Canadiens need to sign him at year’s end. If he continues his play at his current pace, it should be a no-brainer, and the offensive rearguard will get into full-time AHL action next season after playing a three-game stint with the St. John’s IceCaps last year. The 6’0” left-handed shooter will likely need two or more years of development at that level, but he projects to add future depth at the position Marc Bergevin seems to covet the highest.

Performances from October 31 - November 6, 2016

CHL

Mikhail Sergachev made his season debut for the Windsor Spitfires after spending a month in Montreal, further cementing the Memorial Cup hosts as a serious contender for the title. Paired with Winnipeg Jets 2016 first-rounder Logan Stanley, Sergachev had three shots but no points in his debut: a 4-2 win over Saginaw. On Sunday, Sergachev looked fully at home, making strong plays at both ends of the rink on a shift that ended in his setting up Logan Brown for a goal to make the score 3-0. He would add a second helper on the power play in the third and take home second-star honours in a 6-3 victory.

Jeremiah Addison was also a big contributor to the two Windsor wins, as his chemistry with Anaheim second-round pick Julius Nättinen continues to flourish. In the third period on Thursday, Addison notched his eighth goal of the season less than one minute after Jalen Chatfield had extended Windsor’s lead to 3-1. The two quick tallies proved to be the death blow despite Saginaw’s 14 third-period shots and a late strike. On Sunday, Addison recorded a third-period power-play assist on ex-linemate Gabriel Vilardi’s tally.

Noah Juulsen scored his sixth goal of the season Saturday, a go-ahead marker late in the first period with the man advantage, leaving him just three off his career high set two seasons ago. The ‘Tips would never relinquish the lead, en route to a 5-2 victory with Juulsen being named the game’s third star. Juulsen was held off the scoreboard in the team’s other game this week, picking up a pair of tripping penalties in a 4-1 win.

Matt Bradley registered an assist in each of Medicine Hat’s three games, all coming during the third period, with his 19 points in 18 contests to date ranking fifth among Tigers’ skaters in points-per-game. On Wednesday, his helper came on a game-sealing empty-net tally, while his assist Friday broke his side’s goose egg in the third period while down 3-0, though it would ultimately prove too little too late in a 5-2 defeat. Finally on Saturday, his line with John Dahlstrom (Chicago seventh-rounder in 2015) and team leading scorer Mason Shaw (2017 draft-eligible 18-year-old) connected to extend Medicine Hat’s lead to 5-2 and ensure a 2-1-0 performance on the week.

Will Bitten had a good week for Hamilton, but appeared snake-bitten (the puns are quite endless) until Sunday. Held off the scoresheet over his previous five games, Bitten set up Matthew Strome early in the third period to tie the game at four. Then with just under two minutes to play and the Bulldogs on the power play, Bitten was set up by Mackenzie Entwistle in front and lifted a shot past the London netminder to give his side the lead. Bitten would also add the empty netter, named first star for his three-point performance.

Victor Mete was held pointless in the aforementioned London-Hamilton clash, but had multi-point outings in his two previous games. Mete scored the Knights’ third goal and set up their fourth in a 7-0 blowout over North Bay, then collected assists on the team’s first and sixth goals in a 6-4 win the next night. Mete’s 16 points in 16 games rank second among all OHL D-men.

Michael Pezzetta continued an unremarkable season, not only held scoreless in two games, but also weak in the face-off circle: a combined 12-for-40.

NCAA

Nikolas Koberstein and Casey Staum each continued mediocre early seasons. While neither is known for their offensive output (and both were scoreless this week), neither is showing the defensive prowess that would be required to compensate for their lack of production at this stage. The Canadiens can rely on the lengthy development time permitted before a contract decision is required to see how their futures play out.

Colin Sullivan again played one half of his team’s back-to-back this weekend. He was held out of a 6-3 loss Friday, but was inserted for Saturday’s rematch with Western Michigan. Unfortunately, he didn’t necessarily help Miami’s cause, picking up two penalties (one of which led to a powerplay goal) and finishing a -1 in a 5-2 loss that dropped his squad to 3-4-2 on the year.

Jake Evans and the University of Notre Dame had the week off. They’ll be back in action next weekend.

AHL/ECHL

Winger Nikita Scherbak was the hot hand for St. John’s, extending a goal-scoring streak to four games in back-to-back multi-point efforts leading to wins over Utica. He had his goal-streak snapped Saturday against Toronto, but did register an assist in the win, before having his six-game point streak broken Sunday.

Scherbak is finding a better balance in using his size and strength to beat defenders rather than over-relying on his skill, which isn’t always as dependable as a young player anticipates transitioning to a new level of hockey. He is certainly having a start to the season that all were hoping for to get his development back on track.

Charles Hudon rebounded from a pointless weekend with an offensive outburst, collecting five points in the week’s first three games before a quieter afternoon on Sunday. The game against the Marlies turned chippy in the third, and Hudon and Toronto prospect Viktor Loov were each handed ten-minute misconducts with a little more than two to play, hurting the IceCaps’ attempt to rally from down a goal.

Sven Andrighetto also continues to produce, adding four points in the four games to remain above the point-per-game mark on the season. Daniel Carr did get the call-up over him nonetheless, managing two goals and an assist in the first two games of the week before rejoining the Canadiens.

Mike McCarron is continuing to produce at a rate similar to last year, notching three points in four games. Stefan Matteau is also producing in what could be a decisive year for his career, scoring three goals this week, though a pair were into empty nets.

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

Goaltenders

For a while it looked like Charlie Lindgren just couldn’t lose this season, as he started and won St. John’s first three games of the week, allowing just seven total goals in the process. Unfortunately the Toronto Marlies handed him his first loss Sunday in his fourth start over the past seven days, with his 28 stops on 31 shots coming on the wrong end of a 3-2 decision.

Michael McNiven split his decisions this week, ironically earning the win in his weaker of the two performances. McNiven was named the game’s first star in a 2-1 loss Friday night thanks to 41 saves on 43 shots. He earned a win the following night, however, despite allowing four goals to Sarnia on 32 shots.

Zachary Fucale’s second ECHL start wasn’t quite as good as his first, with the Beast outplaying their opponents on Friday but coming up short. Fucale was beaten five times on 24 shots, handed his first ECHL loss by a 5-3 final.

Hayden Hawkey and 14th-ranked Providence had only one game, playing Merrimack to a 2-2 tie. Hawkey, who has started all the Friars games thus far this season, made 24 stops on 26 shots to earn the draw.