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Catching The Torch: Cam Hillis keeps working, and Cole Fonstad keeps scoring

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

Robert Murray/WHL

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, QMJHL, WHL) and collegiate (USHL, NCAA) levels.

After the draft, Cam Hillis told reporters that, during the summer, he was going to work with the skating consultant for the Guelph Storm, Barb Underhill. He was not a bad skater compared to his peers in the OHL in his draft year; his speed was about average, but his agility surpassed most on the ice on any given shift.

As the third-round pick is not the biggest player, listed at 5’11”, improving his skating is a good way for him stay ahead of the play and avoid hard encounters in the corners.

What a skating coach does is correct issues with technique. There is often work on the ice to modify a skater’s form and stride, but also off the ice to improve posture and flexibility. There can be a lot of different problems that prevent someone from getting the most out of their pushes, and for that reason a lot of details to correct. Those can make a huge difference in the end.

For Cam Hillis, some of those details were identifiable on video. The main issue with his skating was how he was kicking his feet after each stride, lengthening the time it took him to recover after a push, delaying his next movement, and thus reducing the speed he could achieve in a straight line.

The other part of the recovery aspect of skating is having your feet come back under your centre of gravity, or as close together under you as possible. Hillis also had a wide stance, meaning that his feet would stay apart when he brought them back under him, shortening his stride. As mentioned, those elements didn’t necessarily make Hillis a bad skater, just not an efficient one. There was much room for improvement.

This following video compares Hillis’s skating last season with a few clips of him this season. Unfortunately, the same problems seem to still be there. There aren’t many visible changes, as he is still kicking his feet and skating a bit too wide.

Changes often take time and he will likely need to continue to work with Underhill, who seems to act as a consultant during the season as well.

It’s one thing to work on skating during the off-season, but it’s another to apply it in games when the fast tempo can make you forget about the habits you need to continue to enforce. Not all skaters can manage such big changes in just one summer of work and retain the improvements when they start the season.

This is why making improvements, when necessary, to such a deep-rooted element of the game should be praised when a player achieves it. Michael McCarron is a good example of that this year.

There are also physical limitations sometimes that can prevent a player from ever achieving perfect form, factors that we don’t know in Hillis’s case. This is why the goal of skating coaches is strictly to maximize a player’s own potential.

Outside of skating, Hillis has had a slow start to the season production wise. He is still the same passer he was in his draft year, but it hasn’t helped him write his name on the scoresheet as much. That should correct itself with a little more luck.

He set up a couple of good chances for his teammates on Friday and managed his first goal of the season on a slasshot, which is a rare occurrence for him, but a good sign. For the forward, shooting more will continue to be something to strive for; he only has five shots in his first six games, which is low for a forward with his ice time.

Another thing Hillis will have to continue to work on is not rushing his passes when he faces pressure. He has great vision and can find teammates in a pinch, but he should use his elusive qualities more to keep possession against defenders: twisting, turning, and cutting back will help him be a true creator on the ice. He has the abilities necessary to create space for himself and with more confidence his production could explode, considering his innate playmaking abilities.

William Bitten was a favourite prospect of many because of the way he worked on the ice. He had little regard for self-preservation and would just expand all of his (immense) reserve of energy to get the puck back for his team. He has now left the organisation, unfortunately, but the new third-rounder of 2018 has a lot of the same qualities and could replace what Bitten brought.

Hillis may not have had the start he wanted, but it doesn’t diminish his play away from the puck, or the worker that he is, playing way above his size.

Cole Fonstad, LW, Prince Albert Raiders

Fonstad scored another pair of goals against the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday. It was a second two-goal performance this season for a prospect who now has five in nine games.

‘Right place, right time’ is how those goals were scored by Fonstad. He isn’t the biggest player, but timed himself well to be in the slot to put in the rebound and receive a perfect pass from his teammate for a one-timer.

This is how he has to play to be effective. He doesn’t have to stay on the periphery or battle in front with the defender, but needs to read the play to capitalize on the opportunities afforded to him.

He scored 21 goals last season. He was touted as more of a playmaker, but considering that the fifth-rounder seems to be transitioning into his role as more of a shooter — he already has 28 shots in eight games — it’s entirely possible that he improves on that previous goal total.

Nick Suzuki, C/RW, Owen Sound Attack

Suzuki’s performance this past week was up and down. That said, he still recorded four points in three games and had a memorable assist.

The mark of a great playmaker is a capacity to subvert expectations, and Suzuki is definitely able to do that. Even after watching the clip below a few times, it is still surprising how he managed to pass the puck to Hancock so precisely off the rush without looking. He shows shot the whole time with his body and stick, while his head is also turned towards Alan Lyszczarczyk, who represents a pass option. This leaves the defender completely guessing as to what he will do.

With a slight movement of his stick, the Habs’ top prospect uses his third option and slides the puck perfectly to Hancock who is cutting uncovered to the net.

This play also speaks to the importance of pass support in the offensive zone. Lyszczarczyk being in a good position to shoot definitely helped Suzuki sell the play to the opposing defence.

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

CHL weekly performance

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand 3 0 1 1
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 2 3 5
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 2 1 0 1
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 2 2 1 3
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 3 0 4 4
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 4 2 0 2
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 2 0 1 1
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 2 1 3 4

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Joël Teasdale FA LW QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand 7 2 3 5
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 7 4 3 7
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 6 1 2 3
Alan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 6 2 4 6
Nick Suzuki 2017 C/RW OHL Owen Sound 5 3 4 7
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 9 5 5 10
Jarret Tyszka 2017 LD WHL Seattle Injured
Scott Walford 2017 LD WHL Victoria 4 0 2 2
Josh Brook 2017 RD WHL Moose Jaw 5 3 5 8