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 has not played his team's last few games, at least not in their entirety. He suffered a leg injury when the Bulldogs visited the Peterborough Petes, and it kept him away from the ice for the better part of the week.
On Thursday, late in the first period, Bitten was committing to his usual heavy forecheck when he stumbled while turning into an opponent. His knee seemingly bent awkwardly.
At first, it didn't look like it was anything serious, as, after having some difficulty getting off the ice and leaving for the dressing room, he came back at the beginning of the second stretch. But he left again after a few minutes and didn't come back.
On Friday, he featured in his team’s starting lineup, but barely played a period before withdrawing.
This injury didn't stop him from scoring his 18th goal of the season against the Petes, and that after he was hurt. On the power play, the first shot coming from his stick got stopped, but he quickly got a second chance and buried it.
You can see his knee extension in his weight transfer and the pain it immediately caused him. He unfortunately ended up limping through his celebration.
We can assume Bitten isn't the best at watching from the sidelines, and this was another display of his giant heart. That being said, we have to hope that he didn't cause himself further harm by coming back to play not once, but twice.
The Bulldogs’ next contest is on Thursday., and even if he feels ready to go, it might be best for the winger to rest. His team is currently solidly in first place in their conference with a double-digit points lead. They should be able to go on without Bitten for a short while.
Josh Brook #2, RD, Moose Jaw Warriors
Before this week's games, in which Brook recorded a goal and an assist, the defenceman had only three points in his last eight games. This drop in production coincided with the arrival of Kale Clague, a top prospect of the Los Angeles Kings and one of the best defenders in the WHL.
While Clague is left-handed, he took priority over the right-handed Brook in the lineup. The Warriors opted to not play their two most talented defenders together on the first pairing until Saturday.
Brook also got relegated to the second unit and it can also partly explain this drier stretch of games, even if only nine of Brook’s 20 points came with a man advantage. It looks like the Warriors were experimenting with a four-forward, one-defenceman set-up, and Clague, who currently leads the league in points per game, was logically fitted at the point.
But the Warriors struggled with those strategies on Friday when they faced the Red Deer Rebels, losing to an organization currently at the bottom of the league. This immediately signalled the need for adjustments for the team, and Brook was back on the first unit of the power play in the last few minutes of the game.
He rewarded the coaching staff, who put him there again on Saturday, by preparing the team's only power-play goal of that game.
He was given the role of sliding low along the left outside lane to create more pressure on the opposing defensive formation, replacing one of the forwards who usually featured in that spot. He barely missed his third goal of the season from such a play.
He had no problem being a threat from there as it's something he regularly does at even strength as well, albeit from the right lane. By leaving his blue line to go up, sneaking behind defenders, he often manages to create quick scoring chances right in front of the net.
Brook can be very aggressive in the offensive zone. Receiving the puck after having already started his motion towards his next target — whether that’s the net for a closer shot or one of his teammates — he has opposing defensive formations rush trying to adapt to him, and allows teammates to slip through a reforming coverage, giving them more space to work with.
Those aspects of his play (leaving his blue line to give a pass option in high-danger areas, and starting his momentum as he's about to get the puck) combined to create his second goal of the season on Friday.
On that play, he first gave a relief from pressure to his forwards down low, receiving the puck from them and switching his team's possession to the less-crowded side of the ice. A few seconds later, as he saw the very skilled Brett Howden cutting to the middle, he was there for the pass and beat Red Deer's goalie with a well-placed wrist shot from the slot.
What prevents Brook from being a top defenceman in the WHL right now is again consistency. He shows offensive flashes more this season overall, but he has been struggling, in the games I've watched, to drive transition for his team, at least compared to what is expected out of him.
He has good awareness of what is going on in the opponent’s zone and how he can best position himself to help his team toward the ultimate goal of putting the puck in the net. But in those situations he is facing the play. Both teams are in front of him and he can adjust accordingly.
When he is stuck with back pressure on the breakout, he often commits to the wrong options, as he isn't always accounting for the forecheckers’ speed or their numbers. He rarely attempts to fool opponents and generally defaults to the expected pass option, making it easier for the opposing team to create turnovers.
In the clip below, you can see that Clague will have limited time with the puck if Brook gives it to him, and there's an opening for the Habs defenceman to pass up the boards to an uncovered winger if he just sells the D-to-D pass.
Clague is even pointing with his stick where he wants Brook to move the play (up the boards), but he still receives the telegraphed feed from the Habs defenceman. This forces Clague to get rid of the puck as soon as he gets it.
Brook also has a tendency to think he can out-skate opponents in situations he can't. And it is especially prevalent on the breakout. He sometimes tries to carry the puck out when he should really be looking for a quick pass, or cut back to create separation from the forechecker and then attempt to get out with control.
It all comes down to awareness: having your head up, and constantly shoulder-checking to have all the potential breakout solutions in mind. This is something Brook is perfectly capable of becoming better at as he possesses the necessary skill set. If he would be as efficient at getting the puck out as he is often in the offensive zone, he would become a dominant force every shift.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for daily prospect updates.
CHL weekly performance
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||2||1||1||2|
CHL season to date
|Josh Brook||RD||WHL||Moose Jaw||25||2||19||21|