Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Habs' prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL), collegiate (USHL, NCAA), and professional (ECHL) level.
In the second installment of this year’s Catching The Torch, Montreal Canadiens prospects across the CHL had a much better week. William Bitten seems to have found his groove at the position of first-line centre for the Hamilton Bulldogs, and Jarret Tyszka managed two assists in his game versus the Portland Winterhawks Sunday night.
But one junior-aged prospect is stealing all the spotlight, so let's talk more about Victor Mete.
Victor Mete, LD/RD, London Knights
The diminutive defenceman has kept impressing with the Habs in the past week, earning more praise and pre-season games. Now, it looks like he will start the season with the team, and he definitely earned his place in the lineup.
Building on his performance in the first few games, Mete stood out on the ice even more. Once again, he didn't hesitate to jump in the play, supporting the offence with his entire skill set.
He has an ability to recognize the open space in front of him and generally has no fear to use it. A player splitting the defence and rushing the net is exciting at the junior level, but it's also a lot more common there. Mete having the poise to try something like this at the end of the game against Florida, when he was being closely monitored and evaluated, is remarkable. He knows what his skills are and he's willing to use them at the NHL level.
Just a few seconds later on the same shift, he was again seen rushing the net, making himself an option for a cross-ice pass. He has been showing this classic part of his game more and more as he gets comfortable playing in the Habs’ system. The potential for costly turnovers is always there, but Mete seems to have been able to pick his moments better this week, not placing his defence partner in trouble by making him defend an odd-man rush.
He also has been contributing to zone entries more in the last few games and has been making a case for himself to keep getting power-play time (should he stick around). He's not only able to use his speed to beat the blue-line formation of the other team, but he's showing more and more that he's a smart player able to manipulate opponents.
Except for a rough period when he was paired with Jordie Benn, fumbling a few pucks at the offensive blue line, Mete remained solid enough defensively. He wasn't a concern for any of his defence partners, as other rookies might have been.
He's still having some trouble one-on-one, with opposing forwards peeling off of him quite easily, but it's a natural adjustment when defending against much better NHL skaters. His quickness and his ability to anticipate the play should help him stick to opposing forwards a lot better with experience.
William Bitten, C/RW, Hamilton Bulldogs
After not managing a point in his first game with the Bulldogs, Bitten scored one goal and added three assists this week. Although it was his third game in less than 48 hours, he had an exceptional performance on Sunday afternoon, constantly driving the play for his line.
If this start to the season is indicative of the year Bitten will have with the Bulldogs, he should easily finish as the top scorer on his team. Simply put, he has been having a ridiculous amount of chances that he hasn't convert on.
Always more of a playmaker that a goal-scorer, he has been finding his teammates in high-danger areas with great passes. Some of those plays ended with the puck in the back of the net, but his linemates also owe him more than a few points.
Bitten has a tendency to attack defenders head-on at the blue line, and he's been surprisingly good at getting past them, creating at least one chance that would have featured on his highlight reel at the end of the season had he been able to finish it off. Unfortunately, he didn't manage to beat Emmanuel Vella, Mississauga's goalie.
Generally, his line has been very effective at creating offence since the start of the season, and the Habs prospect has been the catalyst for their production. The Bulldogs’ success would be pushed even further if they could turn their zone entries into longer possession in the offensive zone.
Bitten has been guilty of trying to create too many plays off the rush. As he enters the offensive zone, he often turns the puck over attempting passes to trailing teammates without looking, or through traffic with little chance of success. He would gain from delaying his play a bit more at times, retaining possession to let his wingers catch up, or cutting back to find better options. But, once again, his linemates have also been missing some great passes coming from the stick of Bitten.
The dynamic forward seems to have adapted to centre decently well. His relentless motor is an asset in helping recover the puck anywhere on the ice, but also keeping it under pressure. Plus, receiving some help in defensive duties from his wingers, Bitten can often remain ready for a fast breakout at the top of the zone like he's used to, utilizing his skating to take the puck rapidly the other way.
Next week, the Bulldogs face the Niagara IceDogs and the Sarnia Sting: two teams that have each already scored 17 goals in four games. It will be quite a challenge for Hamilton as they didn't even manage half of that (eight goals) in the same number of games.
Bitten will need to lead the offensive charge for his team, and if his line can convert on a few more of their chances, they stand a good chance to improve their 2-0-2 record.
NCAA - USHL
Jake Evans had his first pre-season game versus the US National Under-18 Team on Sunday. It was a great opportunity to shake off the rust for Notre Dame and for the USNTDP squad to measure some of their new players against a proven team.
Evans will need to step up this season. With the departure of Anders Bjork (finding a spot in the Boston Bruins' top six) a lot of the offencewill have to be generated by Evans and Andrew Oglevie. Last season Bjork was an incredible force on the ice, at times double-shifting on different lines. The good news is that his absence will show the true potential of Evans, now team captain, as he enters his last NCAA season.
I made a mistake last week in saying that St. Cloud State’s season started on September 30. They hosted a pre-season game against University of Regina. Ryan Poehling had one assist in a match where the Huskies mauled the Cougars 8-0.
Michael Pezzetta had a disapointing week after his incredible first game with the Sudbury Wolves. Watching him Wednesday against the North Bay Battalion, there was a concerning lack of conviction in his play. While you can always count on him to finish his checks, his play with the puck was lacking, losing it while facing little pressure on multiple occasions. Yet he still had an assist during that game, a bright spot in an otherwise scoreless week.
Cale Fleury had his first goal this week and added an assist, but he's now -5 after five games. His team, the Kootenay ICE, looks to have a better season ahead of it after finishing at the bottom of the standings in 2016-17. A .500 record (2-1-2) is a reason to remain hopeful.
Year-to-date CHL stats
Next week, we will go out west to take a look at the some of the Habs defencemen in the WHL, particularly Jarret Tyszka who has had a good start to the season. He's not as well known as other prospects, but he's a big, mobile blue-liner that fits the mould of today's NHL.