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.
Junior teams have been stacking up with talent in preparation of the playoffs, and a lot of core players have relocated. With how things are shaping up in Canadian junior hockey, and the now impressive strength of some Habs prospects’ organizations, we are in for a very exciting end to the season.
William Bitten, Hamilton Bulldogs
William Bitten's team had already made a few splashes a couple of months ago with the acquisition of Ryan Moore and Nicholas Caamano. The two former Flint Firebirds players have bolstered Hamilton's offence, pushing it to top five in the OHL from being at the bottom of it in goals per game in October.
Moore's undeniable chemistry with Bitten has turned up his and the Habs’ third-rounder's production to well above a point-per-game level. Bitten now has 30 points in 19 games after recording only 15 in his first 21. He also got nine of his 13 goals in that last stretch, most of it with Moore centring his line.
His points this week were more impressive than the last. The right-winger had no trouble finding his linemates with hard passes off the rush, and even got creative when those weren't open by shooting for dangerous rebounds.
His goal was a quick and precise release coming off the wing. It beat the Petes' goalie clean blocker side. The usage of a snapshot while in stride hid his target until the last second.
It's likely that Bitten doesn't come back as an over-ager next year, opting to play in the AHL after a deserved entry-level contract comes his way. The Bulldogs will also lose a few of their other top players to professional hockey in the same way.
With that reality facing them, the Bulldogs' management is going all-in for a Memorial Cup. They have just made a lot of noise in the OHL by adding Robert Thomas from the London Knights. The St. Louis Blues first-rounder has 46 points in 27 games and instantly makes Hamilton's offence one of, if not the best in the league.
With all the scoring help the Bulldogs have received, Bitten's production should reach new levels with the deadly power play the team will now present. It's also very likely we see him compete this spring well after other players in the organization are done with their season.
Victor Mete, Habs
The London Knights were one of the stronger teams in the OHL this season, climbing to the position with a series of short win streaks after a difficult start. That being said, the team was not as much of a powerhouse this season. Losing a few of their top players, including their two best defencemen in Olli Juelovi and Victor Mete dragged them down heavily.
The fact that they chose to trade Max Jones to the Kingston Frontenacs and Thomas to the Bulldogs means that they are rebuilding instead of contending this season.
With that in mind, Mete’s rights could also be moved to a team with bigger aspirations before the deadline at noon on Wednesday. If he were to come back to junior — a scenario that remains possible with the rules that 40 games on an NHL roster marks burning a year of restricted free-agency — he would be an extremely solid acquisition for any team.
Cale Fleury, Regina Pats
The Pats are hosting the Memorial Cup and have a guaranteed spot at the tournament. But right now they are still clinging to a playoff spot. The addition of Cale Fleury, who has 17 points in 22 games, has not been enough to make them a force in the WHL.
They made a few moves recently to add scoring depth and shored up their defence with Libor Hajek, but if no greater additions are coming, and if Sam Steel and the Pats offence can't find their footing, a lot of the hopes of their fans will fall on the dynamic pairing of Josh Mahura and Fleury. They will need to turn up their game if Regina is to have a good showing in May.
The Habs prospect is no stranger to carrying a team from the back end from his time in Kootenay. However, the end-to-end puck rushes that were a trademark of his draft season have been infrequent in the present one. Fleury possesses deceptive puck handling and a great skating ability that could help push forward the offence of the Pats.
It might be time for the defender to go back to his roots.
On Sunday, he did just that. He prepared the game-winning goal for the Pats by intercepting the puck and skating it into the offensive zone through the middle of the ice. By dragging the entire defence of the Raiders with him, he freed up Jake Leschyshyn, who beat the opposing goalie with a well-placed shot.
Josh Brook, Moose Jaw Warriors
With a growing lead in the standings, Moose Jaw is a favourite to win the WHL this year. They also seem to have all the offence they could need. Therefore, the team opted to trade for more of a stay-at-home defenceman in Brandon Schuldhaus for their Memorial Cup run.
Welcoming back Josh Brook was already an immense boost to the team. The Habs prospect has been producing above a point-per-game rate since his return (16 points in 15 games) and is on pace to eclipse most other defencemen on the Warriors by a solid margin. And that's after missing 25 games of the season.
Brook has only one goal to Fleury's eight, but contrary to the Pats’ blue-liner, his production is more diversified. Last week, he had two five-one-five assists, one on the power play, and another short-handed.
Brook possesses a great shot, but, even better, he's smart about using it. He's not guilty of blasting the puck on net every chance he gets.
This assist from Wednesday first showcased a great fake to create a lane through heavy traffic. Brook's then reached one of his teammates in front of the net with a shot-pass for a deflection. It created a rebound and a goal a few seconds later.
His best play of the week was his short-handed one. He had the patience while down a man to keep the puck in the defensive zone and wait for Jayden Halbgewachs to distance his coverage in the neutral zone. He then lobbed the puck in an area where Halbgewachs could skate to to pick it up for a breakaway.
Brook's pass turned into the first goal of the game for the Warriors.
CHL weekly performance
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||3||0||4||4|
Jarret Tyszka scored his sixth goal of the season on Saturday. He got a great setup from a neutral-zone faceoff and pulled off a wrister that deflected off the Spokane goalie's glove before going in.
CHL season to date
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||15||1||15||16|
Pezzetta was injured in three-on-three overtime on Saturday after assisting on the game-tying goal. His collision with a teammate was off-camera, but Pezzetta was seen crawling to the bench. He didn't play on Sunday against the Bulldogs.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.