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Catching the Torch: Will Bitten and Jake Evans shine again, Zach Fucale bounces back

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Stats, highlights, and updates from Habs prospects from the past week.

2013 NHL Draft - Portraits

Each week Catching the Torch takes an in-depth look at performances over the last seven days of players in the Montreal Canadiens system below the NHL level. This includes players at the junior (CHL, USHL, etc.) and collegiate (NCAA) levels, as well as professional (AHL, ECHL) ranks.

Note: This week’s format is a bit different from previous weeks. Please feel free to comment below if you prefer this version — a bit deeper coverage of fewer players — versus previous weeks’ coverage of all prospects but in lesser detail.

Prospect Performances from January 16 - 22, 2017

CHL

Three Stars of the Week

(1) Will Bitten

After failing to find consistency early in the season, Bitten is quickly closing the gap on his scoring pace of last year. Despite being separated from his former linemates Niki Petty and Matt Luff (except on the power play), the centre found quick chemistry on a new trio (which also played together earlier this year) with Matthew Strome and Michael Cramarossa.

Strome was the first star in Friday night’s 4-2 win over Barrie with a hat trick, but Bitten was second star with three points of his own and going 7-for-14 in the faceoff circle. It was Bitten’s goal that got the Bulldogs in the game, as they had trailed 1-0 through 20 minutes. His goal just six minutes into the middle frame kicked of a three-goal period that turned the tides. The performance extended Bitten’s point streak to six games, over which he collected 13 points.

The streak came to an end on Saturday, however. It was Bitten’s former linemate, Matt Luff, who starred in a 2-0 win with a goal and a helper. Hamilton’s top power-play unit (featuring Bitten as one of four forwards) converted for the other tally, though Bitten did not collect a point and went only 4-for-18 on draws. Bitten was also the victim of a heav but clean check along the boards by Eemeli Rasanen, with Cramarossa coming to his defence by dropping the gloves to instigate a retaliatory fight.

(2) Jeremiah Addison

Addison got off to a strong start to his over-age junior year after returning from camp in Montreal, but has since cooled off. He’s hovering around the point-per-game mark as Windsor dealt with injuries and looked like less of a threat than their roster indicates they should.

He managed to add a couple of goals to his totals this week, starting Tuesday night against Kitchener. Playing on a line with Gabriel Vilardi and Aaron Luchuk, Addison first assisted on a Jalen Chatfield marker just past the midway mark of the first period. Then three minutes later, the winger himself scored his 18th of the year, giving the Spitfires a lead they would hold until late in the third. The Rangers forced overtime and completed the come-from-behind win in a shootout.

Addison’s trio was dangerous again on Thursday, with the 20-year-old’s six shots tying for the game high. The Spits were already up 3-0 early in the third when Vilardi spotted Addison for his 19th to put any hopes of an Ottawa comeback to bed.

A brief four-game point streak was snapped Saturday in a 2-1 triumph over Niagara. It was the weakest of Addison’s three outings, finishing a -1 (the only Windsor skater in the negatives) with a single shot on goal.

(3) Mikhail Sergachev

The towering defenceman started the week slowly, paired Tuesday with undrafted 19-year-old Austin McEneny and being blanked in both points and shots. He did have a tussle with 20-yearold, 6’0” Rangers forward Darby Llewellyn which earned him a five-minute major.

Sergachev then made his biggest impact on the scoreboard Thursday evening, assisting on two of Logan Brown’s three tallies (including one on the power play) in a 4-0 Windsor romp.

Despite not adding to his point totals, the Russian combine for 12 shots between Saturday and Sunday’s games, finished tied for first and second, respectively, among skaters in the two contests.

As EOTP covered earlier this week, Sergachev was ranked 11th on ESPN’s list of the Top 50 NHL prospects, up 27 spots from his previous ranking.

NCAA

Star of the Week

Jake Evans

Evans continues to string together an impressive NCAA season, recording points in both of Notre Dame’s weekend games. His unit with Andrew Oglevie (undrafted 21-year-old) and Cam Morrison (Colorado’s 2016 second-round choice) did most of the damage for the Fighting Irish, opening the scoring on Friday night as Evans spotted Oglevie for a 1-0 lead.

While the opener of the back-to-back with New Hampshire ended in a 2-2 draw, the latter half was more one-sided. Notre Dame took a 1-0 lead into the third period, before the Oglevie-Evans-Morrison line put the game away. First Evans assisted on defenceman Andrew Peeke’s goal, and then the centre himself added an additional insurance marker with little more than 12 minutes to go.

With his strong play over the weekend, Evans has now collected points in 10 of the University’s last 11 contests, and now ranks third on the team in scoring behind Oglevie and leader Anders Bjork.

Goaltenders

Star of the Week

Zachary Fucale

While Michael McNiven did extend his incredible win streak to 11 games, this week’s star goes to Fucale, who found his game once again after struggling post Spengler Cup.

Fucale got two starts for Brampton on Friday and Sunday, and faced 32 shots in each. He was beaten only twice Friday by Kalamazoo to earn second-star honours, but the Beast could only score once and dropped the decision. The netminder received better offensive support with four goals for on Sunday, and stopped all but three Fort Wayne shots to pick up his 14th victory of the year.

While his personal statistics lag further behind, Fucale has carried his “winner” reputation to the ECHL, now ranking seventh in terms of victories. While their lead on both Wheeling and Adirondack is slim, Brampton currently sits in a playoff position, third in the North Division.

AHL/ECHL

Pro Prospect Summary

Coming off a light week, the St. John’s IceCaps were busy with a four-game schedule, and luckily could count on reinforcements returning from Montreal and from injury.

The team’s top performer was Michael McCarron, who clearly took a lot of confidence from his time in Montreal, which included scoring a goal and four points in 15 NHL games. While he could still improve in shift-to-shift consistency, he was a dominant force at times in all four of the week’s games, finishing with two goals and two assists. While he appears ready for full-time duty in Montreal, it seems the Canadiens want to continue to develop him at centre, and the need for a role-playing penalty-killing winger like Jacob de la Rose has been deemed more critical at this point.

Also returning to the lineup, recovered from an injury, was Charles Hudon, and he made an immediate impact. Just 4:23 into his first game back, Hudon was found by McCarron for his 11th goal. Hudon added another goal in Sunday’s loss, the only St. John’s tally, which forced overtime and earned the IceCaps a point.

If they are to claim enough of those points to make the post-season, the IceCaps will need Nikita Scherbak to regain his scoring touch. If McCarron came back from Montreal with a bang, Scherbak landed with more of a thud, blanked in all four of the week’s matchups. It’s fairly common for players to struggle with a return from their first big-league call-up, but the hope is that Scherbak can take the learnings and experience gained in working to round out his pro skill set.