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Catching The Torch: Cale Fleury growing into a reliable defender for the Pats

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

2017 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via 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.

Cale Fleury was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens for his skating ability and his offensive production. His play away from the puck, even if it might have been a strength of his at the time, was hard to evaluate due to the numerous issues plaguing the Kootenay ICE.

Last year, he was facing top competition every night without much of a supporting cast. The breakdowns were too common for the team to really understand if the adventurous defensive play of the defenceman was something that was innate or just a consequence of the situation he was in.

Fleury often forfeited sound defence in order to get his team on the scoreboard, getting out of position, double-covering opponents, and trying to rush the puck from his zone as much as possible.

The qualities he showed were still enough of a reason to take a chance on him despite his less desirable tendencies, hoping that he would get a better environment in which to develop in the following season.

Fortunately, his trade to the Regina Pats provided him just that.

Prospect Spotlight

Cale Fleury #4, RD, Regina Pats

Fleury has grown to be a defensive anchor on the Pats’ blue line, and is likely their most reliable defenceman at this time. Quite a step-up for someone who had trouble finding his marks in his zone just a year ago.

Being able to rely on your teammates does wonders for a defenceman. The trust that your partner won't get beat and give an opponent a free lane to the net enables Fleury to stick to his own coverage, and helps him close down passing lanes instead of having to chase the puck around.

While his new team plays a huge role in the transformation, Fleury still deserves a lot of the credit. He is often the last man back on the ice and looks calm both while facing the opposing team's rush and adjusting to player movements in his zone.

He shows a patience that he didn't have previously and it is making a world of difference for him.

It's not easy to beat Fleury one-on-one. He's quick with his pokechecks and focuses on the opponent’s body to make sure he doesn't get outmanoeuvred by the soft hands of some of the top players he faces. Getting into the defensive zone on his side of the ice is a real challenge for opposing teams every game.

Fleury is also constantly looking around him to identify the options his opponents have with the puck. This way, he is able to better position himself to counter what he anticipates they will do next.

This is one of the major areas where he has improved over the season. He is not getting surprised by opposing plays nearly as much as before, and is enforcing a tight gap with his man almost every time.

Since his arrival with the team, he has been trusted for long shifts on the penalty kill in large part due to those qualities. And on Saturday, his excellent play while down a man was rewarded with a short-handed goal.

A favourable bounce allowed him to explode in the neutral zone, leaving both defenders behind him. He caught the puck in time to go around a goalie who seemed to not expect Fleury's speed, and left his cage attempting a risky pokecheck.

He slid in the puck into the deserted net for his 10th goal of the season. As he previously recorded an assist on the power play in that same game, he now tallies 39 points, surpassing his production of last year in 17 fewer games.

Since joining the Pats, Fleury has been scoring at 0.80 points per game — around the same pace Josh Brook is putting out with a stronger team in the Moose Jaw Warriors — and has emerged as a two-way defenceman.

The third-rounder is one of the prospects showing the best development right now. He still has some flaws to his game, but the potential is there and the fact that he's growing into it is very encouraging news.

Scott Walford #7, LD, Victoria Royals

Walford is not having nearly the same progression this season, unfortunately. He is putting up points at around the same pace (0.49) as last season and has yet to find the back of the net in 55 games; 66 if we count back to last year.

He was likely not drafted for his offensive abilities, but he regularly features at the point for his team on the power play and is therefore given plenty of occasions to write his name on the scoreboard.

He boxes opponents out and positions himself well, but his defensive game, while being his best attribute, remains not nearly strong enough to compensate for his lack of production, unlike what was seen from Noah Juulsen a couple of years ago.

That all being said, last Wednesday, Walford played a strong game and proved that he has more to offer than what he has shown since the start of the season. He prepared a goal from Kaid Oliver by pinching high in the offensive zone and throwing the puck on net for his forward to deflect in the net.

Before joining his teammates on the attack, he first stood tall at his own blue line, nullifying the opposing rush by stepping up on an opponent, separating him from the puck.

This is what is asked of him. He has to be more aggressive on both sides of the ice and seize opportunities when they arise.

And it doesn't have to come from playing the puck deep in the offensive zone.

Walford has gotten better at landing stretch passes. He's able to locate teammates in the neutral zone quickly and feed them the puck from his own end. This creates immediate transitions for his team, and even breakaways when he's able to catch the other team on a line change.

Walford has to play to his strengths, but he also has to expand those if he wants to show a more upward curve in his development.

It is still very early for his development given his style of play. His abilities to box out opponents from the slot is sound positional game, and that could help him shine in the playoffs to come for the Royals.

William Bitten #14, RW, Hamilton Bulldogs

The Bulldogs, the Eastern conference's top team, defeated the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the West’s best, 5-2 on Sunday to clinch their playoff spot. Hamilton also achieved this statement victory over a probable big post-season rival without the help of Robert Thomas, who is serving a five-game suspension for a slash.

William Bitten stepped up in that game and scored the insurance goal late in the second period. He picked up a loose puck in the offensive zone, made his way to the net, and delayed his shot as much as possible until he found a hole under the right pad of the Greyhounds’ goalie.

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 1 1 2
Michael Pezzetta C OHL Sarnia 2 0 1 1
Cale Fleury RD WHL Regina 3 1 2 3
Jarret Tyszka LD WHL Seattle 3 0 0 0
Scott Walford LD WHL Victoria 3 0 1 1
Josh Brook RD WHL Moose Jaw 2 0 0 0

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 53 19 40 59
Michael Pezzetta C OHL Sarnia 48 19 25 44
Cale Fleury RD WHL Regina 54 10 30 40
Jarret Tyszka LD WHL Seattle 53 6 27 33
Scott Walford LD WHL Victoria 55 0 27 27
Josh Brook RD WHL Moose Jaw 27 2 19 21