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.
According to those calling the game on the broadcast, Marc Bergevin was in attendance on Saturday when the Hamilton Bulldogs faced the Oshawa Generals. With the disappointing season the Habs have had, it's already time for Montreal's brass to evaluate their assets ahead of the trade deadline. And he couldn't have picked a better game to observe his 2016 third-round pick.
William Bitten was everywhere on the ice, in likely one of the best performances of the entire season. He and Robert Thomas — another possible reason for the presence of Bergevin at the game — were dominating every shift and combined for five points. They each got a goal in a crushing victory over the Generals.
William Bitten #14, RW/C, Hamilton Bulldogs
Bitten is averaging around a point-and-a-half per game since November; a production in line with some of the top players in the OHL. The confidence that comes with seeing his name on the scoresheet every night does wonders for him on the ice. It's becoming quite hard to not focus on his exploits every week.
Take a look at the ridiculously perfect saucer pass he snapped on Friday. The arc has the puck fly over the stick of two opponents and land perfectly on the tape of Nicolas Mattinen, who then scored a few seconds later.
Bitten executed that pass with one quick motion after seeing his teammate alone across the ice. Having attracted the attention of every defender by threateningly cutting to the middle, he left Mattinen plenty of space to skate closer to the net and attempt his shot.
This sequence doesn't just illustrate the forward’s passing ability, something that has been well documented in previous editions of this series, but also the tenacity he shows in puck battles. Adding in his strength and great balance helps him keep possession under heavy pressure.
He stayed on his feet with the puck on his stick even after the opposing defenceman attempted to pin him along the boards, and he separated from his coverage after recovering, leaving his opponent behind.
By using quick fakes, Bitten can gain a step on a defender, enough for him to open a lane to skate in and keep away pokechecks. He places his body in between the puck and the opponent and pushes against him to become more difficult to move. This leaves him enough room to cut back away from pressure, allowing him a second to look for a pass to the slot.
Unfortunately, this feed didn't quite connect with Thomas. But it was just one of many similar attempts the Bulldogs' top line had in that game. The way they are able to use the space given to them to consistently create great scoring chances — for example, by crossing their routes to the net or lagging behind slightly to remain open — is a treat to watch.
There are still some adjustments to be made for the trio of Bitten, Thomas, and Nicholas Caamano to become a well-oiled machine, but it should be as good as any line in the OHL in a few weeks. The Bulldogs second goal of that game, featuring a behind-the-back pass from Bitten, is another indiction of their improving chemistry.
The combined speed of Bitten and Thomas also makes them a threatening force on the penalty kill. With the Habs prospect now burying his breakaway opportunities, sending the puck ahead of the line of defence is now sufficient for the Bulldogs to score a few goals even down a man.
Bitten is very active short-handed, looking to jump on any opportunity to create a break. He knows he can out-skate almost any defender and is often leaving the zone looking to fetch a pass as soon as his team gains possession. This keeps the opposing defencemen on their toes as they have the possibility of getting scored on consistently hanging over their heads.
But this doesn't mean that any consideration for defence is thrown out of the window for him, as he displays the same energy when moving around in his defensive zone. Bitten rarely ever stops. Powered by his relentless motor, he's constantly in passing lanes and challenging close opponents.
He often will go above and beyond to make sure he remains as annoying as possible to deal with, by keeping an intense forecheck on unsuspecting defencemen going to retrieve the puck after a dump-out.
Bitten's first point on Saturday was on a man advantage he created by trying to gain position over an opponent in front of the net; something that didn't seem to be well-tolerated and earned him a cross-check to the head.
He rose back up and responded by preparing the first goal for his team a few moments later.
Cale Fleury, RD, Regina Pats
Pieces are moving around for the Pats. They are currently in a wild-card spot despite all the players they recently added to the team. On Wednesday, Fleury had his power-play time cut in favour of a four-forward, one-defenceman (Josh Mahura) setup.
I don't think this is really a knock on the Habs’ 2017 third-rounder, who has been performing quite well for the team since his arrival, but likely more a consequence of Regina's position in the playoff race. The team has to figure it out quickly to avoid the embarrassment of not playing in the WHL post-season while being the host for the Memorial Cup.
Experiments are common in that situation. Fleury scored a majority of his points at the start of the season on the power play, and he will remain a great option for the Pats should they choose to go back to a more traditional setup of two defencemen.
He did record an assist in that game at even strength. He sent a hard stretch pass through the middle of the ice that sprang Nick Henry for a breakaway goal.
He also demonstrated his skating ability in that game. With Regina dominating the contest, it left a lot of space for him to carry the puck up the ice and take advantage of the deflated defence of the Saskatoon Blades. Ahead of his team after entering the offensive zone, he shot the puck to create a dangerous rebound.
This was an important moment for the Pats. They needed to show their superiority over an opponent who sits just a few points behind them in the standings.
Fleury scored his ninth goal of the season unassisted on Sunday when one of his wrist shots from the point found the back of the net. He showed some patience before opting to fire through a screen, and his quick lateral step got it past the blocking defender.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL weekly performance
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CHL season to date
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