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.
Change to Catching The Torch's format:
We are testing something new for Catching the Torch. The coverage will now be split over two days. On Tuesday, the focus will be on CHL prospects, while Wednesday will be dedicated to the NCAA. This is done in order to allow for more in-depth spotlights of some of the lesser known Habs youngsters.
The Kootenay ICE are a middle-of-the-pack team this season. It's a massive improvement from being the worst in the league last year, but still it was not deemed enough for their management.
Almost a year after being nominated captain of the team, Cale Fleury is now making his way to the Regina Pats after Kootenay made a move for the future.
The ICE spent the majority of their season with two right-handed defenceman on their top pair, something that is quite rare in hockey. Martin Bodak, who seems to have a similar skill set to Fleury, was used on his off-side most of the time alongside the Habs prospect.
Jonathan Smart, Fleury's replacement and one of the pieces of the trade, is left-handed, allowing Bodak to play on his natural side. This was probably one of the reasons the ICE decided to pull the trigger on the trade. They also get a promising player in Cole Muir.
This trade is good news for Fleury as he goes to the team that will host the Memorial Cup, thereby getting a free spot to compete during the tournament. It's an extremely valuable experience for any junior hockey player. Most dream of the chance to compete for the Cup, and Fleury just got an entry for a chance to win it all.
After being far and away the best player on the ICE last year, carrying his team through a season where they only managed 14 wins over 72 games, where they struggled to score and allowed 4.65 goals on average, Fleury will now be entering a situation where he won't have to do everything himself.
Fleury now joins one of the better teams in the league. The Pats were in need of a right-handed defenceman, and with that hole filled, they should only improve going forward.
It's hard to tell who Fleury will be paired with, but both Josh Mahura (Ducks’ third-round pick) and Dawson Davidson are left-handed defencemen and are having good seasons. Fleury's skill set, his vision of the ice, and his ability to get involved offensively could also easily complement a more stay-at-home type of defender.
It will be an interesting change for Fleury. It was hard to evaluate his play in his own end at time, because the defensive issues on Kootenay were generalized. It felt like he tried to overcompensate sometimes, and it's probably one of the numerous things he will have to get out of his play to better fit with the Pats.
This is an incredible opportunity for the prospect. It's possible the Habs had something to say in that trade going through, and they must be happy that one of their touted future defenceman is now in what logically should be a better environment for his development.
William Bitten joins team OHL
The CHL was on break for most of last week due to the games versus the Russian National Junior Team, in what has now become a classic. Each season, the Russian youngsters fly over to Canada to face the best players out of each league (WHL, OHL, and QMJHL) and test their own top prospects.
William Bitten, the only Habs prospect who taking part in the series, was mostly utilized as a role player, filling in on the fourth line for Team OHL and the penalty kill. It wasn't the best opportunity for him to showcase his talent, but his selection speaks on how he's perceived as a player. Despite not being a top point-producer in the league right now, he was chosen by a staff comprised of coaches that only saw him while facing the Hamilton Bulldogs.
His skating and passing ability, and the fact that he perseveres on every play makes him an attractive option even if he's reduced to the bottom six. He has the qualities to play up and down the lineup on the wing or at centre.
William Bitten, #14, Hamilton Bulldogs
Bitten's best chance in his game versus the Russians on Thursday was on yet another breakaway. Unfortunately for him, the puck lost speed bouncing in the neutral zone. He had to circle back to pick it up before attacking the net. It didn't give him a real chance to beat the goalie as he had to resort to a shot from the left circle with the defensive pressure catching up to him.
Nevertheless, the Habs’ third-rounder came back to his OHL team on Friday and had a strong performance versus the Erie Otters, recording two assists in a 7-4 victory. For a team that has had so much trouble scoring, the Bulldogs didn't have any problem finding the back of the net against the Otters.
It's become a sort of tradition for Bitten and his line-mates to miss a ridiculous amount of opportunities each game, and even with seven goals on the board, it was still the case for them in that game. It's not crazy to think that the Habs prospect could have ended his night with a lot more than two points.
He did it all in that game: stole the puck with relentless forechecking, faked out defenders with behind-the-back dangles, drove wide to out-skate the opposition at the offensive blue-line, and set up his teammates with countless of great passes in high-danger areas.
He got back to his centre duties without skipping a beat, retrieving pucks deep in his zone to start the attack and making his presence felt all over the ice, double-shifting due to injuries and the choice of the Bulldogs to carry 11 forwards. And that in his second game in 48 hours.
With a 7-2 lead late in the third period, after being on the ice for most of the game, Bitten was still not slowing down. He shifted to another gear, racing the defenders to a puck his teammate lazily dumped. They had a head start, but were still no match for Bitten's speed. Too tired to even make a play after having prevented the icing, he immediately retreated to the bench.
Bitten has an unstoppable motor. Even with some of the great abilities he possesses, this is probably the number one reason why he will have success at the professional level.
He's not having the greatest of season right now in terms of production, but it always feels like he will pick up the pace at any moment, always noticeable working harder than most on the ice. It's only a matter of time before it pays off for him.
Here are his two points from the game: a saucer pass on the rush, and a secondary assist on the power play.
Scott Walford #7, Victoria Royals
After three games without a point, Walford recorded a pair of points on Friday when the Victoria Royals faced the Edmonton Oil Kings. A good part of his production this season came from routine passes that transformed into secondary assists, but it was a different story versus Edmonton.
Walford had one of the best game I've seen him play. Both his assists were the result of precise execution and great vision of the ice, finding his teammates in scoring position with hard feeds.
His first point came after of a slap-pass to Ryan Peckford, who made his way to the front of the net. Peckford barely had to move his stick to redirect the puck coming from Walford.
Later in the third period, on the power play, the Habs prospect made an equally impressive play when he skated up to keep the puck in the offensive zone. As it looked like he was about to dump the puck further along the boards, he found Matthew Phillips across the zone, after having drawn the attention of the entire opposing team defence.
Phillips had all the time he wanted to prepare Tyler Soy's game-winning goal, en route to a 3-2 comeback win.
Walford was also acclaimed for his physical presence in that game, landing two crushing hit on the Oil Kings. The first occurred at centre ice as an opposing forward attempted to get around his 6'2” frame (a choice he regretted a few seconds later), and the second on a similar play while defending a zone entry.
Walford is able to disrupt approaching forwards with either the reach of his stick or those big hits when the timing is right. However, he still has to work on not getting beat by faster players going wide on him, as he's slow on his pivot and strides into it.
By continuing to attack opposing players with the right angle, he should be able to use the tools he already has to strip them of the puck while he continues to work on his skating.
Walford seems to recognize the options available to him when he wants to push the play up the ice and doesn't panic under the forecheck like some other defencemen, but his passes tend to get intercepted in transition. Even when he has displayed an ability to reach his teammate in stretch plays, he can cause a few turnovers per game sending the puck into coverage.
He is sometimes too static, both with and without possession, and it adds to the previous problem. Even when he has the space to carry the puck to find better passing lanes, either going up the ice or laterally, he remains planted in the same spot.
If he moved his feet more often when he's about to receive the puck, instead of waiting for it, he would have some momentum while he looks for teammates. It would open the ice in front of him and make his next move a lot less predictable, his motion helping him create or find better passing lanes.
Even when he looks to rush the puck up the ice — something that remains quite rare for him — his decision is made after getting the puck on his stick. He now has to accelerate past a forechecker that had time to better reposition himself to stop him, instead of first going towards the open ice before receiving, and getting a step or two on the opposing defenders in the process.
This issue also makes for a less dynamic power play for the Royals. Once again, Walford doesn't move enough while acting as the pivot. He's often transferring the puck from one teammate to the next, then getting the puck back and doing the same thing the other way around. The opposing formation adapts easily to the changes of puck possession.
The best chance in the clip above came when Walford created separation from his teammate at the blue-line and slid back to shoot through the lane he created with his movement. However, a few seconds later, he was back to his usual pattern.
A good example of blue-line movement is Cale Fleury. He's able to drag opposing players out of position, freeing his teammates from coverage, and also consistently looks to open lanes for his shot.
CHL weekly performances
It was not a very productive week for the rest of the Habs prospect in the CHL. Jarret Tyszka has not recorded a point in the last three games.
Michael Pezzetta had a difficult night on Saturday, finishing -4 in a game where the Sudbury Wolves lost seven to three to the Owen Sound Attack.
CHL season to date
Cale Fleury picked up another assist on a five-on-three power play against the Prince Albert Raiders on Saturday. He now has eight points in his last nine games. Next week, we take a look at how he fits with his new teammates in Regina as the team welcomes the Calgary Hitmen on Wednesday then embarks on the road for two more games on the weekend.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.