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Catching the Torch: Examining Simon Bourque’s offensive explosion

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This week Canadiens prospect update also includes a look at Mikhail Sergachev’s deceptively explosive stride, and Charles Hudon’s lethal release.

simon bourque Getty Images

Perhaps it was adjusting to a new team that caused Simon Bourque to record just three points in his first eight games with the Saint John Sea Dogs. It was an unusual dry spell for the consistently productive Bourque, who has 44 points in 45 games this season.

Although Bourque’s seven-game scoring tear ended on Saturday night, the thirteen points he recorded over its length mitigated the brief slump. Not only does Bourque have a new career-high in goals (13), he set career-highs in longest point streak (seven games), goal streak (three games), and assist streak (three games).

Coming with this recent surge has been increased offensive-zone activation and neutral-zone rushes, particularly at even strength.

While the defender is still best offensively on the power play, this increased offensive flexibility fits seamlessly into the Sea Dogs’ speedy, full-attack structure and gives Bourque more opportunities to generate offence.

Take this goal — Bourque’s career-high 13th — for example:

Although far from a Sergachevian goal, this type of play — challenging defenders and working into open ice — has been a rarity until all but very recently from Bourque.

He’s now moving the puck to areas of higher danger, therefore increasing the likelihood of him getting a shot on net and scoring. Smartly, Bourque used the defender as a screen in this case, and fired the puck into traffic.

The shot was low and on target; two staples in Bourque’s arsenal. Even if this doesn’t cleanly beat the goaltender, it’s a puck shot for a rebound.

While that particular attempt on net was rather weak, make no mistake, Bourque’s shot continues to increase in power.

The Sea Dogs’ power play was operating at 70.4% during Bourque’s seven-game scoring run. While he racked up seven points on the man advantage, he also tallied six even-strength points, including three goals and two primary assists. The power play is still Bourque’s bread and butter offensively, but there’s no denying the stark improvements he has made.

He suffers from the opposite of what many junior players do: instead of always looking for the high-risk play, Bourque rarely looks for it, opting to keep things relatively safe, sometimes to a fault. He prefers low, hard shots on goal rather than aiming for the top corner, and instead of forcing cross-zone or stretch passes, he prefers easier, high-percentage plays.

Since joining the highly-skilled and creative Sea Dogs, Bourque has shown the ability and willingness to adapt, and that’s a testament to his hockey smarts.

Bourque will never be the most creative or gifted on a blue line that features Thomas Chabot and Jakub Zboril. Instead, he will keep sending perfect passes into their wheelhouses for one-timers; keep firing low, accurate shots to generate chances for the Sea Dogs forwards; and occasionally mix in a creative play if the opportunity arises. And the points will continue to pile up.

CHL Highlights

It was a fascinating week for Mikhail Sergachev. On one hand, Sergachev was at times dominant while in possession. All four of his points were primary, and he single-handedly embarrassed the five-man opposition. On the other hand, it was one of the roughest weeks he has had without the puck.

While he brought an intense physical game and legitimate meanness, he struggled with gap control. He was playing too passively and was taken advantage of by forwards attacking with speed. Another problematic area was Sergachev’s play around the net, as he was somewhat indecisive picking up his man.

With that said, Sergachev has made noticeable improvements to his defensive game.

So instead, I want to take a look at a lesser-discussed element of Sergachev’s toolbox: skating.

There are three excellent elements demonstrated in the following clip: reliance on crossovers rather than strides, controlling speed, and powerful edge work. (Ignore the sloppy goaltender.)

First, Sergachev is able to generate a tremendous amount of power as he enters the neutral zone through his smooth 2-to-1 crossover-to-stride ratio (i.e. for every stride he takes, he makes two crossovers). This maximizes his skate blade-on-ice time, meaning he’s putting less effort into speed generation than if he were taking strides and allows him to quickly change the angle of his attack if need be.

Second, Sergachev controls his speed. By slowing up for one crossover in the neutral zone, he forces the defender at the blue line to also ditch speed. Then, Sergachev suddenly turns on the afterburners and blows past.

Finally, Sergachev’s strength on his skates is also evident. By cutting too wide around the defender, Sergachev allows him to nearly recover his positioning. As the defenceman approaches, he aggressively leans on his inside edges to explode through. This move results in the extension of Sergachev’s left leg, which he further drives forward to explode through the defender’s stick.

For another look at this, here’s a clip featuring all four points and a few other dazzling rushes from this past week.

Jeremiah Addison returned (after two weeks) from a bruised lung in a big way, as he scored twice and added an assist on February 9. The first goal showcased Addison’s quick hands and craftiness around the goal. Unfortunately, his week came to an early close after receiving a boarding major for a bone-headed crosscheck into the back of Ben Gleason, for which he received a one-game suspension.

A goal-scoring tear in January has evaporated, but Will Bitten is still grabbing assists. He missed most of the first period on Wednesday’s game for reasons unknown, and the normally hit-seeking speedster has been less physical of late. Regardless, Bitten tallied a trio of helpers on February 11; two off the rush, a rarity as he continues to adapt to a Hamilton team more focused on cycling than Flint was last season.

After missing nearly three weeks with a lower-body injury from the World Junior Championship, Noah Juulsen finally returned to the Everett Silvertips’ lineup. He recorded an assist in both games on nearly identical plays: tipped-in point shots.

Meanwhile, Michael Pezzetta got his name on the scoresheet after going a month without a goal. The centre scored a pair, including one on a penalty shot, against Ottawa. It was just his fourth multi-point game this season.

NCAA/USHL Highlights

Since December 2, Jake Evans has been held pointless just twice. The most recent of those was this past Friday. The playmaking, defensively-adept centre has taken his game to another level in recent months.

AHL/ECHL

Charles Hudon continues his scoring ways in the AHL, this week potting three goals and adding two assists. Once known for his playmaking ability above all else, Hudon has emerged as one of the AHL’s best snipers in the past two seasons. His quick release is what makes his shot so lethal, as it’s hard to guess just when Hudon will shoot.

He is able to flex his stick and shift weight so quickly that it’s difficult to examine even in slow-motion. He often approaches shooting positions with relaxed, unassuming body language before firing a laser beam in the blink of an eye.

To demonstrate this, here’s a clip highlighting each of Hudon’s four most recent goals, and the technique that he uses to achieve such a lethal release:

Following a stretch of poor play, Nikita Scherbak has finally regained a bit of confidence. The game-breaking forward was pointless in 10 straight following his return to the AHL, and also showcased some nasty habits. He was bumped up to the top line with Chris Terry and Hudon for the game on February 8, and has since returned to his dynamic ways from earlier this season.

Following an excellent mid-season run, Daniel Audette has recorded just one point and 15 shots on goal in his last 13 games. Audette’s early-season struggles with the speed of the AHL game continue, as he has been chasing the play far too often. When he does get possession, he’s often hit-or-miss. And lately, it has been mostly misses.

Goaltenders

If you don’t know much about Hayden Hawkey, you should get caught up on the Habs’ collegiate netminder. The 2014 USHL Goaltender of the Year has started and finished all 30 games Providence has played this season. After contesting a combined 20 games in the past two seasons, Hawkey understandably got off to a slow start. But since December 9, Hawkey has won 13 of 16 games, including an ongoing nine-game win streak with a .927 save percentage.

Charlie Lindgren opened the week with a 31-save shutout, and it was a well-deserved victory. Lately, Lindgren’s numbers have taken a nosedive, but he has also been keeping the IceCaps in games they don’t belong. Faced with large numbers breakaways, odd-man rushes, and defensive breakdowns every game, Lindgren (and Yann Danis) have been given little to no support.

Despite some recent struggles, Michael McNiven remains arguably the OHL’s top goaltender. With another two wins on two tries this week, McNiven now has a 21-3-1 record in the last 25 games. Absurd.