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.
Sunday was the last day of CHL action before the Christmas break. It marks the end of a strong first half of the season for the majority, if not all Habs prospects in the league. Catching The Torch will be back on January 2, 2018 as we continue to follow the future hopes of the Montreal Canadiens organization.
William Bitten, C/RW, Hamilton Bulldogs
After playing centre for a while, Bitten was back on right wing for the Bulldogs in the last few games. Ryan Moore, Hamilton's new acquisition and a prolific OHL scorer, is slotting down the middle on his line. With Matthew Strome on left wing, this is a powerful trio.
The firepower that Hamilton added in this trade also helped Bitten become the productive player he can be. Since the move happened — right after his five-point night — the Habs prospect has never fallen below a point-per-game pace on the season; something he struggled to achieve at the beginning of the year.
With his current pace, it's likely that we see him surpass his career best of 65 points in 67 games. Had he received the offensive help he needed right from the start, there would have been no doubt about him posting a record year.
As shown earlier this season, his production doesn't reflect his high potential to become an NHL player. He has numerous tools that point to him making the Canadiens lineup in the next few years, like his passing ability and the fact that he is a great skater with a physical edge.
It will likely take him a little while to refine those attributes, like developing better ways to utilize his playmaking skills by creating lanes for his passes (not unlike Ryan Poehling) instead of having to thread the needle every time.
But once he drops some of the bad habits of junior hockey, he could prove to be very useful to any coach at the professional level, able to handle defensive responsibilities while contributing offensively.
Bitten was one of the OHL’s standout players in the first half, and his blooming production will make for an exciting final three months of the season. He finally has the necessary supporting cast to show what kind of player he can be.
He even scored a goal on a breakaway this week. It has been a long time coming for a player who creates those solo opportunities with regularity.
Josh Brook, RD, Moose Jaw Warriors
After missing the first 24 games of the season recovering from wrist surgery, Brook missed the last two for unknown reasons, most likely due to illness. This doesn't leave a big sample size on which to evaluate him.
However, he recorded an outstanding eight points in the same amount of games after coming back in the lineup and has had an immediate impact on the Moose Jaw Warriors, who were already sitting atop the WHL standings.
The strength of the team surely factors into his production, but after Brook was deemed inconsistent last season, flashing some high-end offensive skill only sporadically, he came out of the gate making some great plays and generally being involved on the attack every game.
In the last couple of weeks, he showcased his ability to manipulate opponents to create lanes to the net, using those paths to either shoot the puck or drive closer to the net. That, added to his hard and precise passes, made him a threat in more than one way on the attack.
Unlike some other WHL prospects for the Habs, Brook isn't as exposed defensively. He guards his blue line well against approaching forwards and knows where to position himself in his own end. That being said, he needs to identify his options on the breakout more quickly and has had some indecisiveness when confronted with board battles that he will need to work on.
The offensive side of Brook's game remains his most exciting trait. In this short stretch of games, most of his points were earned with his great understanding of how to fuel the attack of his team. The trick will be to maintain his offensive game through the rest of the season, which is something he was unable to do in his draft year.
Jarret Tyszka, LD, Seattle Thunderbirds
Tyszka has some great offensive upside, as demonstrated by his 22 points in 31 games; four away from tying his total of last season.
His qualities are numerous. He's calm under pressure while handling the puck or carrying it up the ice; he's able to find his way through the opponent’s defence with some smooth moves, and; even if his wrist shot is probably his best, he's comfortable with different ways to fire on net.
But the defensive side of his game is very problematic. While his stick can find the puck to get it out of the possession of opponents, he's unsure of his positioning and loses track of the play too often. As a result, he can be late to counter the opposition's movements in his end of the ice and he also has trouble breaking the puck cleanly from his zone.
Those are things that can be fixed with time, and his confidence orchestrating the attack is a unique quality that is not present in every defencemen. If he can work out some of his defensive issues, it would also transition into more time on the offence for the Habs fifth-rounder, which is when he is at his best.
Scott Walford, LD, Victoria Royals
Walford is the opposite of Tyszka in the sense that he is calm and reacts well away from the puck while not carrying his team’s offence in the same way. Like I said in a previous article, I have no doubt that Walford will become a solid defencemen in his own end. He looks the part.
But right now, the great majority of Walford's points (17 in 34 games) are secondary assists. This doesn't bode well for projecting any kind of offensive upside in his game. He also has yet to register a goal.
He is still used on the power play because of his passing ability, even though he doesn't drive the play, but rather opts for quick feeds to keep the puck moving in the offensive zone. He often simply pivots in place when he has possession, relaying the puck around instead of trying to actively shift the other team's defence to create better scoring opportunities.
He doesn't have to completely change his playing style, but taking more risks like in the play below where he gains the zone and picks up an assist could be very beneficial for him if he wants to stand out from the pack. He is capable of more than what he has shown so far.
Michael Pezzetta, C/W, Sudbury Wolves
The Wolves are struggling. They have just a two-point lead on the worst team in the OHL: the Flint Firebirds. But in the murk, their captain, Michael Pezzetta, is putting together his most productive season to date.
It would not be completely true to say that Pezzetta is a changed man. His attitude on the ice is still relatively the same. He was really lucky a few weeks ago to not get a long suspension for an elbow to the head. Unlike other years, however, we can finally talk more about Pezzetta the hockey player instead of his disciplinary issues.
He is one point away from trying his career best of 28, and will likely accomplish that feat in about half the games it took to set the previous mark.
Playing for a contract, the sixth-rounder will still have to show a bit more if he wants to be signed by Montreal. He has slowed down recently with only six points in his last 12 games.
What plays in his favour, more than for some other prospects whose rights were allowed to expire, is that Pezzetta has a great skating ability and has developed his nose for the net. That gives him another way to contribute on the scoreboard besides his hard wrist shot. In fact, he’s scored the majority of his points this season from right in front of the crease, either by tip-ins or creating chaos in the zone for his teammates to capitalize.
An ability to score goals from right at the door step is often a translatable skill to the next level, and with Pezzetta's hard forechecking that is served well by his quickness, he could prove useful to the organization down the road.
Pezzetta was out this week due to a head injury, according to the Sudbury Star.
Cale Fleury, RD, Regina Pats
Fleury has 11 points in 15 games since his trade to the Regina Pats on November 15. What's surprising is that the team has only won five of those 16 games. He was supposed to be their missing piece, but it seems that they will have to look for more as they make preparations to host the Memorial Cup.
Fleury's seven goals are the most among Habs defenceman in the WHL and are a direct result of his play at the offensive blue line. However, the situation he's in now is perfect for him to prove he can be more than a power-play specialist while playing on a more structurally sound team, especially if Josh Mahura is able to stick with Team Canada for the World Juniors after rejoining the squad on the weekend.
Regina needs to start winning games, and Fleury has some of that pressure on himself, especially after being identified as a player who could help give the team a boost. There's still time to do so, but sitting just three points ahead of the Kootenay ICE (his old team) in the standings can't be something Fleury is happy about.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL weekly performance
|Michael Pezzetta||C||OHL||Sudbury||Out with head injury|
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||2||1||3||4|
CHL season to date
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||8||1||7||8|