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Catching the Torch: William Bitten burns brightest

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

2016 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Each week Catching the Torch takes an in-depth look at one young member of the organization, while also 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)

When we last featured Will Bitten in Catching the Torch just over a month ago, I referred to him as streaky; not so much regarding his effort, but at times in his ability to finish. This weekend was one where the scoring chances he tends to pile up led to results.

Friday night’s matchup with Ottawa wasn’t close right from the outset, with Bitten cashing in on the power play. Flanked by his typical linemates Niki Petti and Matt Luff, potted a goal just past the first period’s halfway mark to make it 2-0. His second of the night came in the third period; a goal that pushed the score to 7-2 for Hamilton, with the team adding another before the night was done.

The Petti - Bitten - Luff trio played even more of a heroic role Saturday, taking home all three of the game’s stars. Bitten helped to set up a pair of Petti tallies that gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead before scoring a power-play insurance marker of his own early in the third that sealed a second straight win.

The return of Luff (an undrafted 19-year-old signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Kings) from a 17-game injury absence has sparked both Bitten and the Bulldogs, who had tumbled in the standings due to a poor month of December. It’s likely the team’s hottest unit stays together.

"Once we find something that works, we don't really want to change. We want to just continue to grow so they can learn where they're going to be on the ice and have some chemistry," head coach John Gruden told the Hamilton Spectator. "I'm sure there will be some tweaks here and there, but right now I like what I see."

That should be welcome news for Bitten, who has collected five points in two games for the first time this season after achieving the feat on multiple occasions a year ago; a scoring pace he continues to chase.

Prospect Performances from January 2 - January 8, 2017

CHL

Jeremiah Addison had gotten himself on a tremendous hot streak, with two assists in a 5-1 win Tuesday and the insurance marker in a 5-2 victory on Friday giving him eight points in his past five games. The streak would unfortunately come to an end Saturday, with Addison held pointless and finishing a -3 in a 5-1 loss.

Matt Bradley’s production trailed that of his skilled teammates this week, again warning that his strong numbers this season may be a red herring as to his true potential. Held off the scoreboard in a 6-2 loss and 5-4 win on Tuesday and Saturday, respectively, he did play an important role in Sunday’s win over Edmonton.

With the Tigers up 2-1, the Oil Kings looked to draw even on the power play. But instead, Bradley was set up by Mason Shaw for a short-handed marker that held up as the game-winner. Bradley’s 18th goal is now five shy of his career high set last season.

Simon Bourque debuted for the Saint John Sea Dogs, making an immediate impact on the man advantage. Bourque earned a power-play assist in the third period on Wednesday that pulled the Sea Dogs back within two, but it was as close as they would get in a 6-3 loss to Cape Breton. Then on Friday, Bourque scored a power-play marker before the game’s 10-minute mark, but it was a goal that would stand up as the game-winner in a 5-1 defeat of Acadie-Bathurst.

Michael Pezzetta was held without a point in Sudbury’s three games. He notably had a tough outing in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Sarnia, finishing a -3 as he was on the ice for the game-winning goal and both insurance markers that followed. He got some redemption Sunday, on the ice for the Wolves first, second, and fourth goals to finish at +3 in a 4-1 win over Guelph.

Victor Mete’s only point this week was a big one. After being held without a point Tuesday (despite his six shots being second-most among any skater in the 5-1 loss to Windsor), Mete’s sixth shot of Friday night’s matchup with Sudbury had a much different outcome. With the teams even at four, Mete found the back of the Wolves’ net just 17 seconds into overtime.

Mete’s 32 points thus far rank eighth among all OHL blue-liners.

Noah Juulsen began the week on Team Canada’s second pairing at the World Junior Hockey Championship. While his performance on the whole could be considered mediocre, he was at his best in Canada’s semi-final triumph over Sweden, logging more than 21 minutes of ice-time and recording an assist. Juulsen played over 20 minutes in the final as well, but was unable to help the Canadians get past the Americans, taking home a silver medal from the tournament.

Mikhail Sergachev took on an increasingly larger role for Team Russia as the WJC went on, logging the second-most minutes on the blue line in the quarter-final against Denmark, and then leading all Russian blue-liners with more than 25 minutes played in the semi-final against the USA. Despite his limited offensive production in the tournament, Sergachev will learn from the experience. He also took home a bronze medal for his efforts.

Sergachev didn’t get much rest, immediately thrust back into the Windsor lineup. While he had been on fire going into the WJC, he was blanked in his first two games back for the Spitfires, but will undoubtedly enjoy a little time off this week.

NCAA

Jake Evans collected a point in each half of a two-game set with Michigan Tech. Evans scored the opening game’s first goal late in the second period on Friday night, getting the ball rolling in what went on to be a 3-1 Notre Dame win. His seventh goal in 21 games is now just one back of his total for all of last season (eight in 37 games). He contributed again on Saturday, recording the primary assist on a Cam Morrison tally that tied things at two in the second. Michigan Tech would score twice in the third, however, to earn the split decision.

Hot streak alert! Colin Sullivan had an assist for a second straight week. Sullivan had the secondary assist on an Anthony Louis goal midway through the third period that evened the score of the game at one. Unfortunately, Sullivan was called for a cross check with less than five minutes to play, allowing St. Cloud State to capitalize on the power play and take a lead. Miami drew even in the final minute on a Josh Melnick goal, before Melnick again would win it for Miami just over a minute into the extra frame. Sullivan finished a +1 in a 4-1 win on Saturday.

Nikolas Koberstein and Alaska-Fairbanks had this week off.

Casey Staum was held pointless as Dubuque split a pair of games on the weekend. In Friday’s 3-2 win, he took a penalty which could have turned the game’s momentum around in a negative way. Up 3-0 in the third period, Dubuque had a power play, but an interference call against Staum negated it. While Bloomington didn’t score during their shortened man advantage, they did get on the board just 12 seconds after Staum’s penalty expired, but managed to get no further than one back. Next on Saturday, Staum had an evening to forget, on the ice for Madison’s first, second, and fourth goals in a 4-2 loss.

AHL/ECHL

A poor defensive and goaltending performance sunk St. John’s Wednesday night, but Nikita Scherbak (one goal; five points in his last six games) and Jacob de la Rose (one assist; nine points in his last 12 games) stayed hot. That earning the former a boarding pass to Montreal, where Scherbak scored his first NHL goal.

With the injuries in Montreal, the IceCaps were left with a lineup dotted with call-ups and tryouts, but still managed to force overtime on both Friday and Saturday nights, taking home three of a possible four points.

Markus Eisenschmidsigned to an entry-level deal Saturday and thus now officially a prospect who will be tracked in Catching the Torch — scored the team’s only goal Friday night. The goal gave the 21-year-old six tallies and 10 points in 33 contests, both improvements on the goal and five points he had in 28 games as a professional rookie last year.

Last week’s hero Daniel Audette scored the overtime winner on Saturday. His 18 points are now the most of any active IceCaps skater with the three above him (Scherbak, Chris Terry, and Sven Andrighetto) all up in Montreal.

Goaltenders

It was a tougher week for IceCaps goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who was chased from the net Wednesday after allowing five goals on 16 shots before even the game’s midway point. He redeemed himself on Friday, earning a depleted St. John’s team a point with 25 regulation stops. The IceCaps held a 37-27 shot advantage in the game, but could only beat Binghamton netminder Chris Driedger once in 65 minutes, eventually dropping a shootout decision. On a more positive note, Lindgren’s strong season to date was rewarded with an invitation to the AHL All-Star Game.

Zachary Fucale had an abrupt return to reality with a couple of difficult outings coming off his Spengler Cup victory. He was beaten five times on 25 shots Friday, as Brampton dropped a 5-2 decision despite holding a 43-25 shot advantage. The Beast again badly outshot their opponent on Sunday, but Fucale conceded three goals on 21 attempts in a 3-2 overtime defeat. Despite the challenging week, Fucale was among the players named as an alternate for this year’s ECHL All-Star Game.

It was another sensational week for Michael McNiven, a prospect whose stock continues to skyrocket. On Wednesday, he turned aside 33 shots to earn third-star honours in a 6-1 Owen Sound thrashing of Sault St. Marie. The Attack then held the powerful Windsor Spitfires to only 21 shots on Saturday, with McNiven’s 20 stops more than enough to preserve a 5-1 win. Sunday’s game against Kitchener included a few scary minutes, as McNiven had to leave with an apparent injury, but he returned to the crease before game’s end, ultimately missing only seven minutes of action and making 16 saves on 18 shots in a 5-2 victory.

Hayden Hawkey took his game outdoors Sunday, playing against Boston College at Fenway Park. And he was sharp, turning aside 33 of 35 shots, but Providence needed to pull him for an extra attacker, trailing 2-1 late. The Friars were unable to find the equalizer, with an empty-netter making it a 3-1 final.