At first glance, there isn’t anything overly impressive about the season that Matt Bradley is putting together. The Canadiens’ fifth-round choice in 2015 has 66 points in 59 games—about on par with what you’d expect from a fourth year junior.
Furthermore, Bradley’s team, the Medicine Hat Tigers, are second-best team in the WHL after Regina, in both points-percentage and goals-per-game. He has points in 22.84% of his team’s goals, which is 6.5% behind the team lead. Chad Butcher (undrafted overager), Mason Shaw (2017 draft eligible), and defender David Quenneville (2016 seventh-round pick of the Islanders), are the unquestioned leaders of the Medicine Hat Tigers. Meanwhile, Matt Bradley often remains a secondary threat, or a complementary piece alongside Mason Shaw.
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Breaking down Bradley’s production into per-game rates doesn’t make his numbers stand out. Especially considering he plays on a team that features nine 20-goal scorers and 10 40-point scorers.
Surely, there’s a reason why Bradley, who is skilled and speedy, and by all accounts a hard-working dedicated player, has failed to become one of the WHL’s top offensive threats.
Perhaps, that answer lies in even-strength and powerplay scoring:
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The first thing that stands out: Despite being drafted as more of a playmaker than sniper, Bradley is among the best WHL forwards at even-strength goalscoring. Just four of his 29 goals have come on the powerplay, and his 14 powerplay assists are fifth on the team—11 back of the team lead.
Bradley has bounced back and forth between the first and second powerplay units, which makes sense given Medicine Hat’s scoring depth. Shaw, Butcher, and Steven Owre are three of the WHL’s top playmakers, having a combined 68 powerplay assists. Defenceman Clayton Kirichenko has racked up an astounding 20 powerplay assists, and he plays second unit. Quenneville has 14 powerplay goals, which makes him the undisputed triggerman on the roster.
Meanwhile, the team’s top four goalscorers—Max Gerlach, Zach Fischer, Mark Rassell, and Matt Bradley—have a combined 38 powerplay goals. Just four of them are Bradley’s, exactly half of Rassell’s third place eight.
So, why is Bradley effective at even-strength, but behind the pace on the powerplay?
It’s tough to give definitive answers, perhaps it’s combination of these four:
- The scoring depth of the Medicine Hat Tigers, working in unison with;
- Bradley being, at best, a secondary playmaker on a PP that features four of the best PP passers in the WHL, and;
- Structure: Bradley often playing the left side as a right-shot, but the structure is setup to feed David Quenneville, another right-shot, for one-timers (meaning Bradley is unable to do so), and/or move the puck down low/to the net to Gerlach, Fischer and/or Rassell, and;
- Bradley being most effective as a counterattack threat, as in a player who utilizes his speed and quick decision-making to get the jump on defenders. Extended in-zone scenarios, like the powerplay, do not play to Bradley’s strengths.
For the rest of the article I will focus on the first part of point #4: How Bradley thrives in counterattack, and how his confidence to make plays continues to improve:
Bradley has been a consistent scorer this season. While he had a six-game point drought, it was sandwiched between a 26-points in 19-games stretch and a 33-points-in 26-games stretch that featured a 13-game point streak.
Just this week he had two-goal performance, and both of were tremendous demonstrations of skill:
In this sequence Bradley begins flexing his stick just as he receives the hard pass, enabling him settle the puck and get a quick shot off in succession.
Then he launches a rocket to the top corner, just inside the post. And the best part: He does it all while moving at a quick pace. This is a shot that Bradley didn’t have in his arsenal last season, and needs to use more often.
As for goal number two, I’ll let the video do the talking:
Bradley’s ability to make plays with speed is his best asset, and certainly the biggest reason why he’s among the best even-strength goalscorers in the WHL. Having the ability to challenge defenders, get breakaways, find teammates, and shoot with speed and in-stride could make him a solid professional hockey player.
To ELC or not to ELC?
The most important question remains: Is Bradley worth an entry-level contract?
The Canadiens are currently at 46 contracts, with Bradley, Jeremiah Addison, and Simon Bourque all vying for one of the remaining spots. Bourque looks like a look given his production and ability, meanwhile Addison remained at Habs training camp the longest in September.
Since November, Bradley has significantly improved his ability to make creative plays and has taken the “next step” offensively. It’s also important to remember that Bradley is a highly-diligent defensive player, both on right wing and centre.
To answer the question, I’m leaning “yes” currently, but I want to see how Bradley plays in the last 12 games of the regular season and the ensuing playoffs.
Noah Juulsen, armed with a twine-seeking missile for a shot, is currently on a six-game point streak.
It’s becoming easier and easier to rave about Juulsen, as the talented defender began the week by with a two-point performance against the WHL’s top team. He also was a key reason why the explosive offence of the Pats scored just two goals, and the two leading scorers of the WHL were held to just one point in total.
Below is a clip featuring four of Juulsen’s points from this week. Yes, all of his points were generated with his shot, but notice the different shots that he uses. Unlike many juniors, he doesn’t aim for the top corner or launch a powerful blast to overwhelm to goaltender all the time. He intentionally shoots for redirections, keeping shots low and hard, as to generate rebounds. From time-to-time, he will load up the ol’ cannon.
The other top defensive prospect, Mikhail Sergachev, also had an electrifying week. Sergachev has reached the level of offence that he had last season. His offensive skill set isn’t just extremely impressive for a defender, it’s likely among the best offensive tool kits in all of junior hockey—forwards included.
It’s hard to look at Michael Pezzetta and feel anything but disappointment for the way his season has gone. Pezzetta’s points-per-game pace and shots on goal per-game both remain relatively unchanged from this season to last, and he has spent 14 games in the press box following a pair well-deserved of suspensions.
Disappointment aside, there has been improvement in Pezzetta’s game lately. He is finally attempting skilled plays, though not always successful, but it’s nice to see that the thought process is there. He’s getting pucks on the net, and he’s engaged in the tough areas of the ice without crossing the line.
It was a week of prospect-on-prospect violence this week. Jake Evans racked up three points against Hayden Hawkey and his Providence College Friars. As Evans often does, he lurks in soft spots of the ice and then pounces. Take his goal for example, Evans found a soft spot in the slot, took a hard pass, and directed it past Hawkey. Neither of his two assists were highlight reel, but rather smart, intelligent plays that Evans has become so effective at creating. As the season winds down, Evans production has not. For the first time in his three-year NCAA career, Evans has found new-life in the second half, and now has points in 16 of his last 18 games. Remarkable consistency for NCAA hockey.
Charles Hudon continued to rack up the points. Hudon make sure his final point of the weekend was a memorable. As discussed in last week’s CTT, Hudon excels at shooting. In the clip below, he displays soft hands to settle the puck and a tremendous release on a backhander (that does deflect upwards).
Impressive display of skill by Charles Hudon here. Soft first touch off the pass, then finds twine with a quick backhander. pic.twitter.com/sSfwOvG6Wz— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) February 19, 2017
Despite earning four assists in four games, there was quite a bit lacking from Nikita Scherbak’s performance this week. He struggled to find balance in his game—one shift forcing offensive plays, to the next aimlessly dumping the puck despite having the space to make a play.
It was a tough week for Zach Fucale, who allowed seven goals in just 77 minutes split between two games. Since returning from the Spengler Cup 15 games ago, Fucale’s SV% is just 0.884.
Meanwhile, Michael McNiven finally lost. And in that shootout loss, he still posted a 1.85 GAA and 0.931 SV%. The night before, McNiven made 29 stops in a 6-1 thrashing of the London Knights. The amount of poor starts from McNiven can be likely be counted on one hand. His record in the last 28 starts is 23-3-2.
I’ll finish this Catching the Torch with two of McNiven’s best saves of the week: