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Catching The Torch: Red-hot William Bitten finding chemistry with Robert Thomas

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Stats, highlights, and updates on the Montreal Canadiens prospects from the past week.

Hamilton Bulldogs v Mississauga Steelheads Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images

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.

William Bitten is on fire, burning so hot that barely anyone can touch him on the ice. The Ottawa 67's tried to stop the Hamilton Bulldogs' rampage on Saturday, but they, like many other teams recently, were completely crushed by the new powerhouse of the OHL.

The Habs’ third-rounder, playing against his younger brother Samuel in his hometown, was consistently on top of the 67's. He scored a natural hat trick in the third period to put the game out of reach.

After a slow start to the season, since mid-November Bitten has tallied 36 points in 24 games, 13 of them goals, and has only gone three games without a point.

Prospect Spotlight

William Bitten #14, RW/C, Hamilton Bulldogs

John Gruden, the Bulldogs head coach, has decided to split his line of Matthew Strome, Ryan Moore, and Bitten, preferring to use the right-winger alongside Robert Thomas and Nicholas Caaman on Saturday.

We likely won't know until the playoffs arrive what combinations work best for the Bulldogs. For now, they are superior to most opponents, and can score at will with any players on the ice. That being said, the pairing of Thomas and Bitten has shown some really good things.

Bitten's last two years in junior have pegged him as more of a passer than a finisher, but he still has the necessary instincts to complement Thomas’ playmaking. The St. Louis Blues prospect's puck-handling abilities will often attract multiple players, giving Bitten quiet ice to slip into for quality chances.

One of his three goals on Saturday was a good example of the chemistry that could still be built upon. Bitten waited before joining Thomas low in the zone, and Ottawa's defence, which already had plenty on its hands covering the puck-carrier, forgot about Bitten slowly sliding down from the blue line. He received the pass and cleanly beat the opposing goalie with a quick catch and release.

He also scored on a similar snapshot earlier in the game. After picking up a loose puck off the stick of Thomas in the neutral zone, he got a lane to the net and he took advantage of a blocker-side opening.

This is the kind of opportunity that Bitten tended to miss at the start of the season, but not anymore. The confidence is back, and so is the precision of his shot.

Thomas and Bitten had another great chance in the second period. The right-winger caught up to an offensive play to create a two-on-one chance. He then out-skated the only defender to give a tip-in option to his centreman. If it was not for a timely challenge from the 67's’ goalie, that was another easy goal for the duo.

Speed is the name of Bitten's game, and it also provided him with his first goal on Saturday. This time, the aggressive play of the opposing netminder cost him as he badly calculated a pokecheck on a puck sliding towards him.

With the usage of a multitude of quick crossovers, Bitten blew past the line of defence, gunned for the loose puck, and stole it from the reach of the goalie. He picked it up just in time to score in the deserted net.

Ottawa's defence was generally no match for Bitten's skating ability. Even by retreating immediately following a change of possession, the 67’s were constantly on their heels, getting beat at their blue line. They simply gave too much space in the neutral zone for Bitten to accelerate into.

Even if it appears that the Habs prospect will no longer be paired with Strome in five-on-five play, they are still doing damage together on the power play.

Chances are, if you've looked at some of their highlights during the season, you've seen their set play: Strome places himself on the left post, Bitten, after receiving the puck, makes it seem like he's shooting only to slide it across to Strome. The fact that it has worked so many times already is a testament to Bitten's passing and his ability to sell the play.

He got another assist this way on Wednesday, and it was captured beautifully by a well-placed camera.

Bitten is up to 51 points, just six shy off his previous season total with 20 games in hand. With 35 assists, he has also already surpassed last year's assist tally.

There's no indication that he will slow down from his new point pace, and with Thomas by his side, he should at least keep putting up goals about every other game.

Bitten is now proving with numbers what was already evident months ago: he is capable of being a dominant offensive player among his peers. He was drafted with scoring in mind, and is finally showing that he can do just that with an appropriate supporting cast.

Jarret Tyszka #5, LD, Seattle Thunderbirds

Tyszka had four assists this week. He's been producing at a point-per-game rate since December 8 (17 games). The Seattle Thunderbirds are a high-scoring team recently, which has certainly helping that total, but Tyszka has shown that he's more than capable of supporting the attack.

But there was an interesting sequence on Saturday that illustrated well what he has to work on.

Tyszka is able to identify his assignment pretty easily in what seems to be a man-to-man defence system for the Thunderbirds, but he spends a lot of energy inefficiently covering the opponent, whether that’s tying up his stick or sticking to a check who’s not really a threat. The covered player only has to wait for the puck-carrier to get an opportunity to make a pass to successfully break away from a tired Tyszka, creating a scoring chance or jumping on a rebound.

Tyszka is not sufficiently aware of the play developing in the zone. This prevents him from reacting appropriately to opposing movements and leads to his team being stuck on defence for extended periods of time.

In the clip above, there's an instance where the puck has been separated from another opponent coming towards him, free for him to pounce on, but Tyszka is seen skating the other way seeking to re-attach himself to his check.

That being said, there have been improvements in the defenceman's ability to contain the puck-carrier when he is faced with the task. He is still reaching with his stick, vulnerable to cut-backs and well-timed moves from an attacker, but overall he seems to be trying to establish a better body position in an effort to take away possession.

Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.

CHL weekly performance

Player Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Pos League Team GP G A P
William Bitten RW OHL Hamilton 3 3 2 5
Michael Pezzetta C OHL Sudbury 3 3 3 6
Cale Fleury RD WHL Regina 3 0 1 1
Jarret Tyszka LD WHL Seattle 4 0 4 4
Scott Walford LD WHL Victoria 3 0 1 1
Josh Brook RD WHL Moose Jaw 2 0 2 2

CHL season to date

Player Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Pos League Team GP G A P
William Bitten RW OHL Hamilton 45 16 35 51
Michael Pezzetta C OHL Sudbury 40 19 21 40
Cale Fleury RD WHL Regina 45 8 26 34
Jarret Tyszka LD WHL Seattle 44 6 27 33
Scott Walford LD WHL Victoria 46 0 24 24
Josh Brook RD WHL Moose Jaw 21 1 17 18