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Catching the Torch: Explaining Will Bitten’s stagnant production

In this week’s prospect update: Will Bitten’s production is of no concern, Victor Mete’s big game, and Nikita Scherbak’s brilliance—at both ends of the rink.

Hamilton Bulldogs v London Knights Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

When the Hamilton Bulldogs started off by scoring 19 goals in three games, it looked they were poised for a massive season. Building the hype was the addition of Will Bitten, the leading scoring of last year’s Flint Firebirds and a 30-goal scorer.

But with the regular season just about over, Hamilton hasn’t lived up to the early excitement. They sit tied for fourth in a weak Eastern Conference, while Bitten’s 0.88 P/GP clip sits behind last year’s pace and just fourth on his team.

Even though Bitten’s production is that of a secondary scorer, there isn’t cause for concern.

Bitten spent the first 13 games as the centre on a speedy trio with Marian Studenic and Michael Cramarossa. He was creating plenty of opportunities, but with just seven points, the trio was unable to capitalize on their chances.

When arguably the team’s top offensive threat, Matt Luff, went down with injury, Bitten was moved to right wing, where he spent most of last season. At first, it looked like the catalyst for getting Bitten’s production back on track, but soon after he ran into troubles hitting the scoresheet once again.

Bounced back and forth between right wing and centre since, Bitten has generally performed well, but his production remains a tad underwhelming. His production is strikingly consistent at both positions: 0.89 P/GP at centre (28 games) and 0.87 P/GP at right wing (31 games).

On the powerplay, Bitten has been tried on a variety of roles: Half wall playmaker, on the point, and most recently (and consistently), in the slot high slot in the umbrella formation. This limits his puck touches, which seems counterintuitive given the fact that he’s the team’s top playmaker.

Perhaps the greatest change in Bitten’s game has been the surprising lack of breakaways. In fact, Bitten has yet to score a breakaway goal this season, where he scored at least half of his 30 goals last season. This can partly be attributed to his heightened defensive responsibilities during his two extended looks at centre.

Furthermore, Hamilton is more structure-oriented and possession focused than last year’s counterattack-based Flint Firebirds. Bitten’s speed made him lethal in counterattack last season, but hasn’t been getting the same opportunities to utilize it this season.

Instead, Bitten has been producing around the net, where he uses a soft first touch, quick release, and relentlessness to find twine.

He often links this talent (along with his great vision and playmaking ability) with his forechecking ability. Bitten’s speed has been most noticeable on the forecheck, where uses his anticipation, desire to hit everything, and hand-eye coordination to single-handedly disrupt the breakout.

After regaining possession with the other team is disarray, Bitten is able to create a mini-rush of sorts, in which the aforementioned skill around the net and great vision allow him to generate high-danger scoring chances.

While the statistics may be underwhelming, I’m not underwhelmed by his play. He’s improved his ability to get to the net and forechecking ability, and has been a bit snake bitten.

CHL Highlights

Victor Mete has nine points in the seven games since returning from injury. And this past weekend, he may have very well played the best game of his season. London was down 4-1 against Kitchener going into the third period, but eventually won 5-4. How? An offensive explosion from Mete.

4:40 into the third, Mete creeped in off the point—a move that he has become increasing good at this season—and squeaked a shot under the goaltender. Two minutes later, Mete worked against the grain with a clever pass and brought the Knights within one. Off the ensuing faceoff, Mete launched a saucer pass tape-to-tape that sent Sam Miletic in alone, which he scored on. Cliff Pu would go on to score the game winner.

The following night, Mete grabbed another primary assist against the London Knights.

Mete’s 0.65 primary points/GP sits fourth among all OHL defenders, and ahead of Mikhail Sergachev, Olli Juolevi, and Mitchell Vande Sompel.

Benched for the third period following three penalties two weeks ago, Mikhail Sergachev returned with vengeance this past week. Sergachev grabbed three points, including an assist on a tremendous demonstration of strength and will against London. Meanwhile, the Windsor Spitfires won all three games—including an overtime victory against division-leading Sault Ste. Marie and a dismantling of London. With just six regular season games remaining, it looks like Windsor is getting hot at the right time. Sergachev now leads all OHL defenders in even-strength primary points/GP with 0.5.

Following a seven-game point streak, Noah Juulsen has now been pointless in five straight. He had been pointless for more than two games in a row just two previous times this season. Coincidentally, Everett is 2-2-1 in the same stretch.

AHL Highlights

Pointless in 10 straight following his return to the AHL, Nikita Scherbak now has 14 points in his last 13 games. And while Scherbak hasn’t always performed well during this 13-game run, he was excellent this past weekend.

It was the full skill set on display: The silky smooth hands, speed, quick release, and high-end vision.

Scherbak’s quick release and patience in scoring areas earned him a goal against Rochester. In the first of two games against the Toronto Marlies, he struggled to get going offensively until the third period, where he dazzled with an explosive rush. Scherbak’s smooth crossovers are deceptively explosive, masking his speed until he needs it to blow past a defender. His deceptively slow approach create a hole between the two defenders, which Scherbak then exploited by placing the puck in open space and turning on the jets.

In the second game against Toronto, Scherbak stood out all sixty minutes. He scored by capitalizing on a turnover, and then shredding the aggressive goaltender. He later added an assist with quick cross-ice pass to Chris Terry. The goaltender had no chance.

But it wasn’t just the points that made Scherbak effective—it was also his defensive play. Scherbak is often an indecisive defensive player and he stops moving his feet while he looks for his assignment. But this weekend was different.

Scherbak was hovering around the defensive zone by keeping his feet moving, and proactively picking up his assignments. There were even a few instances were a linemate lost their man and Scherbak jumped in. He was able to engage in battles on the puck side because of his movement, enabling him to win these battles.

Then, Scherbak was able to turn this into offence. As a total package of offensive skills, Scherbak was able to make quite the highlight reel in just three games:



Hayden Hawkey grabbed his third and fourth shutouts of the season in back-to-back victories against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the HE Opening Round of Playoffs. Jake Evans and Hayden Hawkey will clash this season once more in the playoffs, and Notre Dame and Providence go head-to-head in a best-of-three this weekend.

Charlie Lindgren started the week with a 29-save shutout against the Rochester Americans. He was fairly underwhelming the following night against Toronto, but it’s tough to fault him on any of the four goals against. Lindgren remains firmly planted among the AHL’s top rookie netminders. Lindgren is fifth in SV% (0.912), third in shutouts (three), and second in wins (18).