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. This edition focuses on those playing in the Canadian junior league.
After a short holiday break, the Montreal Canadiens’ CHL prospects were right back in action this week, not taking long to start putting up some great performances.
It looks like the youngsters are turning their game up a notch for the final stretch of games before the playoffs, starting with Jarret Tyszka, who almost single-handedly provided the Seattle Thunderbirds with their first overtime win of the season on Saturday night.
He created a great chance for himself at the start of the three-on-three period by exploiting the lazy defence of a Portland Winterhawks player. Making a quick inside fake, he loaded up his right skate, and went around the defender to get to the net, where he attempted to roof the puck in with his backhand.
But, this wasn't his best play of the overtime. His game-winning goal will likely remain one of the greatest of his hockey career.
Tyszka has a tendency to rush the net even during regular play, but the space three-on-three provides allows him to do so even more freely. With a minute remaining, he once again gained a step on a defender, received a pass of Matthew Wedman, and proceeded to do this.
It was more than a second effort. There was barely any space for him to slide the puck in between the goalie's pad and the post, let alone manage to do it while facing the other way, on his knees, but it didn't stop Tyszka.
Every point in the standings counts for the Thunderbirds who are still battling for a chance at the post-season, and Tyszka provided them with a precious one in that play.
One way or another, the Habs’ fifth-rounder is putting his mark on this season, making sure he stands out with some truly impressive goals every so often. His skill with the puck is starting to be undeniable.
William Bitten #14, RW/C, Hamilton Bulldogs
Bitten has 26 points in his last 16 games, adding seven in three games this week. Things were coming around for him in the last month and we are now seeing the productive player he can be with an appropriate supporting cast.
His playstyle hasn't changed. He's still the same blazingly fast playmaker with a nose for the net, and his three-point night on Saturday reflected that. His first assist was a quick-look, two-touch pass to Brandon Saigeon, who finished the play into an almost deserted net, Bitten's feed having fooled the goalie who was expecting a shot.
Bitten scored his 11th goal holding his ground in front of the net, pushing back against a defender and catching enough of the puck to redirect a great pass from Riley Stillman behind Kingston's goalie.
He almost scored another one when he found quiet ice on the rush later in the game. He received the puck coming from the stick of Matthew Strome, and rang it off the crossbar with a snapshot.
Fortunately, it bounced right back to Strome who tapped it in for Bitten's second assist of the night.
While the right-winger didn't get any breakaways in that game, his skating ability still created scoring chances. His superior agility and quickness allows him to gain enough separation from defenders to either attack the net or find his teammates in the offensive zone.
If Strome hadn't moved so close to Bitten on the second pass, it was a sure goal from a one-timer.
Bitten's also had a pair of secondary assists on Thursday.
He added a goal and an assist on New Year's Eve. He first received a beautiful saucer pass from Ryan Moore, then made one of his own to Strome on the power play.
Cale Fleury #4, RD, Regina Pats
Mitch Brown recently pointed out how great Cale Fleury and Josh Brook have been at preventing zone entries. Those stats are indicative of a good gap through the neutral zone, which allows them to break up plays and force opponents to dump the puck in, preventing the more frequent scoring chances that result from successful carry-ins.
Fleury reads the play exceptionally well while defending off the rush. Even when outnumbered on his side of the ice, the Habs prospect is often able to force a pass with his aggressive positioning. He then cuts it to nullify the opposing offence a few feet inside the defensive blue line.
He showcased that ability repetitively on Thursday, and it allowed his team to transition the other way instantly.
Fleury also tends to be more assertive than his partner. He does not shy away from sliding down to the left side of the ice to cut a play when his teammate has left too much space to approaching forwards.
This tendency to not back off immediately against the opposing rush led to his first assist on Wednesday. Fleury broke a play up as the other team was exiting their zone, and it resulted in one of the most bizarre goals of the season. Robbie Holmes shot the puck into an empty net from the neutral zone as the Brandon Wheat Kings’ goalie moved too quickly out of his cage, expecting a dump-in.
Here are both of Fleury's assists from that night, the second one being a powerplay tic-tac-toe he initiated.
His third point of the week was a goal on another man advantage. The sequence features three shots from Fleury, each one progressively better than the last.
On the first one, he fumbles on the reception before shooting in place from the blue line. On the second one, he gets the puck and drags it closer to the net, but misses trying to shoot through the legs of a defender. Finally, on the third one, he moves to the same spot before receiving, and can then fire a one-timer directly past the goalie.
CHL weekly performance
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||4||0||4||4|
Josh Brook has 12 points in the same number of games and shows no signs of slowing down, with the Moose Jaw Warriors’ powerhouse of a team fueling him. He has been at the origin of a lot of great plays since coming back from his injury.
Take a look at this rush along the offensive-zone boards to set up a goal from Tristan Langan.
CHL season to date
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||12||1||11||12|
Michael Pezzetta had three points this week. His 15th goal — the most among the CHL prospects — came once again from battling in front of the net; his preferred spot on the ice. He also picked up two assists on New Year's Eve when the Wolves faced the Guelph Storm.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.