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Catching the Torch: Will Bitten shrugs off Team Canada shun

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A weekly statistical and highlight 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: Will Bitten, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)

Will Bitten may have been a long shot to crack Team Canada for this month’s World Junior Championship, but being left off the list for this month’s final selection camp seems to have lit a fire under him.

Bitten has played solid, hard-nosed hockey for much of the season, and might have been a strong option for a fourth line energy role player. But when a country has the embarrassment of riches of Canada, even the depth forwards are ones who typically put up big numbers on their respective junior clubs. And that just hasn’t been the case for Bitten, adept at generating chances, but struggling to finish on them. Or it hadn’t been the case prior to this week, anyway.

Not to overstate the bleakness of his results, Bitten did previously have a four-game point streak (2-5-7), but was blanked in the five games that followed. He snapped the slump in a big way Wednesday night with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 loss to Sudbury, earning the game’s second star.

Bitten would remain in on all of his team’s goals, with an assist on a Nikki Petti tally in a 2-1 loss Friday. And again Saturday, scoring the game-opener against Kingston, before the run ended when Bitten’s former linemate Michael Cramarossa scored a goal to put the Bulldogs up 2-0, a game they would eventually lose 3-2 in a shootout. Still, the feisty forward has proven streaky with his production this season, so he will look to stretch is current success beyond four games and into next week.

The hard working forward won the heart of a lot of Habs fans with his play in September’s rookie camp, but the team had won his heart years prior. “It was actually my favorite team growing up,” Bitten told The Hockey News. “It was a dream come true. Going to my first NHL camp was really exciting and I can’t wait to go again next summer.”

After a tumultuous and well-documented season in Flint last year, Bitten requested a trade, and was sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs where he was reunited with former Firebirds coach John Gruden. Both Gruden and Montreal management are looking for Bitten to emulate Gallagher, who he cites as his current favourite player, with Bitten excitedly explaining to The Hockey News, “They want me to play like him. And it’s pretty cool to look up to him, especially since I got on the ice with him a bit at camp.”

The future looks bright for the 18-year-old, who got to represent Team OHL in the Russia-Canada Super Series earlier this season, and will have another shot at a World Juniors roster spot next year. And hockey writers everywhere wish him career longevity as headlines of opposing teams being Bitten or his own Will’ed to victory could only be made sweeter if he were instead drafted by the San Jose Sharks. But while it’s still early in his development, the Montreal brass would do well to hold on to him.

Performances from November 21 - 27, 2016

CHL

Mikhail Sergachev came into the week on a four-game point streak, but saw it interrupted Wednesday despite having seven shots on goal in the game; he was a -2 in a 4-1 loss. He got back on the scoreboard Saturday, assisting on Aaron Luchuk’s first period powerplay goal, though the once powerful Windsor offense continued to struggle with the team missing injured stars Logan Brown and Gabriel Vilardi.

The Spits appeared headed for a loss on Sunday, down 2-0 late in the third, but Sergachev and company went to work on a pair of powerplays, each ending in a Sean Day tally (one set up by the big Russian) to send the game to overtime. For the second time in three games, Sergachev finished with seven shots, while Day - his defense partner - completed his hat trick in the extra frame on his ninth shot of the night.

Jeremiah Addison returned from a shoulder injury Saturday and looked no worse for wear, but was unable to finish the game, and was out of the line-up again on Sunday with the injury bug biting the Spitfires hard. There is no update on his condition at this time.

Victor Mete’s play earned him an invite to Team Canada’s final selection camp for the World Junior Championship after being left out of this past summer’s development camp. Even if he’ll have his work cut out for him to nail down a spot this season, the experience will be a good one and may help him for next year when he’ll still be an eligible participant.

Noah Juulsen had a quiet week offensively, after also being named to Canada’s selection camp for the World Juniors, where many consider him to be a lock. Juulsen finished a +1 in a 5-0 victory over Kootenay on Wednesday, and was again a +1 Friday in a 4-3 win against Medicine Hat. In that game, he picked up a double minor for roughing during a major second period skirmish that sent five players to the penalty box.

Michael Pezzetta continues to sit out as a result of his second suspension for an illegal hit this season.

Matt Bradley and the high-flying Medicine Hat Tigers had a tougher week, but Bradley was still able to chip in a pair of assists in a 4-3 loss to Everett Friday. The forward was named third star as he finished a +2 and set-up two third period tallies that made it a close game, but Juulsen’s Silvertips held on. Things didn’t go as well in either of the following two nights, however, with Bradley a -2 in a 7-1 loss and -1 in a 5-3 loss respectively.

Simon Bourque had another productive week, continuing to hover around the point-per-game pace. His best performance came Friday, named third star for a three-point effort in a 7-2 victory. Bourque’s goal in the game was a back-breaker late in the second period after Yaroslav Alexeyev had pulled Sherbrooke back within two. Bourque also scored the following night, tying the game at one in the third period, but being the only offense the Oceanic could muster against the Quebec Remparts in a 4-1 loss.

NCAA

Jake Evans got Notre Dame going in the third period Friday night, and the Irish nearly overcame the 3-0 deficit they faced at that point. He set-up a goal to get his side on the board, but the comeback effort fell short in a 5-4 loss. He was the star in the revenge match against Massachusetts the next night, named first star with two goals in a 3-0 triumph. With 15 points in 16 contests, Evans is tied for third among Notre Dame skaters; 20-year old Bruins’ prospect Anders Bjork leads the squad with an impressive 11 tallies and 26 points in the same 16 games.

Nikolas Koberstein was one of only two Alaska players with a plus rating (+1) in Friday’s 7-3 loss to Minnesota State. He followed that up with an assist Saturday on the game-opening goal with the Nanooks skating to a 5-5 draw.

Colin Sullivan was held pointless - but did dress in both games - as Miami of Ohio suffered a pair of losses to Cornell by 4-3 and 2-1 finals.

Casey Staum had a strong weekend, in Dubuque’s starting line-up both nights and recording assists in back-to-back wins. In Friday’s 6-2 victory, Staum skated with undrafted 19-year old Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi, and set-up the eventual game-winner late in the first period by Zach Solow. Saturday he was back with usual partner Brendan Bushy, and set-up Colin Theisen early in the third period for an insurance marker that put the Fighting Saints up 3-1 en route to a 4-1 victory.

AHL/ECHL

The IceCaps won a couple of extra time games this week, while losing a pair of other contests decisively. Shirking prior trends, it was Yann Danis putting in a strong effort to pick up the W’s.

Sven Andrighetto again led the way offensively this week, collecting six points in the four contests. Two of those came on powerplays Sunday, where he assisted on Chris Terry’s opening tally, and staked his side a 2-0 lead midway through the second - a deficit that the Penguins would overcome - before Terry again ensured victory for the home side in OT. Andrighetto was named the game’s second star behind Danis, who made 50 - yes, 50 - stops in the win.

Mike McCarron was injured midway through Wednesday’s game against Syracuse, seemingly after taking a slash to the wrist. There is no real update on his condition, but it kept him out of the week’s final two contests.

Despite a far more productive start to the year than last season, the inconsistencies in Nikita Scherbak’s game got to coach Sylvain Lefebvre enough that the forward was benched for the start of Wednesday’s game. When he was finally unchained from the bench, Scherbak responded with a goal and an assist in a three-and-a-half minute span in the second period, his only points on the week. He missed Saturday’s third period after taking a hit in the second, and was then held out of Sunday’s contest, though details of a possible injury were not released.

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

Goaltenders

Just as Carey Price has looked somewhat human in the NHL of late, it was not a typical week for Charlie Lindgren with the IceCaps. While it can’t be said he got much help from the skaters in front of him, Lindgren allowed six goals in each of a pair of losses coming against Syracuse Tuesday and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday.

Zachary Fucale played in three of Brampton’s four games this week, winning his two starts. He helped backstop the Beast to a 4-3 win on Thursday, despite Brampton being outshot 35-27, which earned him recognition as the game’s second star. Friday, he came in to relieve Bryan Pitton after the Beast fell behind 3-1 in the second period, but would allow two more goals in a 6-1 loss. Finally, he was the third star Sunday with 21 stops in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Elmira Jackals. While his personal statistics were still only mediocre, Fucale will need more positive weeks like this one to help turn things around.

Hayden Hawkey had a good weekend despite failing to add to his win total. After making 16 stops in a 2-1 loss Friday, Hawkey had one of his better outings of the season Saturday night, making 34 saves in a 2-2 draw. While this hasn’t been a banner season for his development, the netminder plays every minute of every game for the Friars, so continued improvement in his play over the course of the year could be a turning point for him.

Michael McNiven, like Lindgren, had an uncharacteristically difficult week. He started it in usual fashion, turning aside 28 London shots and keeping two shootout attempts at bay to preserve a 3-2 victory. His next outing was tougher, with Owen Sound coming out on the wrong end of a 3-2 decision despite outshooting Erie by a 36-23 margin. And in Sunday’s rematch, the keeper was lit up by the talented duo of Dylan Strome and Alex Debrincat in a 6-1 loss. Despite a tough week, McNiven got good news as well, as he was the third Canadiens’ prospect named to Canada’s World Juniors camp. He’s probably ranked third of the three goalies invited, but it’s a nice honour for the undrafted 19-year old nonetheless.