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Catching The Torch: Are late-season slides from Will Bitten and Josh Brook cause for concern?

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

Hamilton Bulldogs v Mississauga Steelheads Photo by Graig Abel/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) and collegiate level(USHL, NCAA).

The CHL season is officially over.

The playoffs are starting tonight for several Montreal Canadiens prospects around the league and — good news! — not one has been left out of the post-season experience this season. Some will have easier paths than others, but due to the strength of their teams, most should at least make it to the second round.

That is where things could start to get really interesting.

Due to how the brackets are shaped, Josh Brook and the Moose Jaw Warriors could play against Cale Fleury's Regina Pats. Plus, Scott Walford's Victoria Royals could also face Jarret Tyszka and the Seattle Thunderbirds in the third round. That is, of course, if all those teams win over their first opponents. If that happens, it would give us a few intense head-to-head matchups between Habs prospects.

Playoff Matchups - First Round

Prospect Team Vs Opponent
Prospect Team Vs Opponent
William Bitten Hamilton Bulldogs Ottawa 67's
Michael Pezzetta Sarnia Sting Windsor Spitfires
Cale Fleury Regina Pats Swift Current Broncos
Jarret Tyszka Seattle Thunderbirds Everett Silvertips
Scott Walford Victoria Royals Vancouver Giants
Josh Brook Moose Jaw Warriors Prince Albert Raiders

In the OHL, Michael Pezzetta and the Sarnia Sting should go through Windsor with relative ease. The defending Memorial Cup Champions are not as strong as last year with a few key members of their team leaving.

On the other side of the bracket, William Bitten will face his brother, Samuel, in their hometown of Ottawa. Samuel is in his second year in the OHL and is a 2018 draft-eligible prospect. The meeting of the two brothers should put oil on an already fiery rivalry between the Bulldogs and the 67's, one that often escalated into a physical contest during the regular season.

Prospect Spotlights

William Bitten #14, C, Hamilton Bulldogs

Bitten was collecting points at an incredible pace in a sequence stretching from November to the beginning of February, matching the production of some of the top OHL scorers. That was after a rough start to the season when, despite playing well and getting a ton of chances, things weren't going his way on the ice.

Now he has gone cold again, recording only seven points in his last 13 games.

Is Bitten a streaky player? He might be. But I think there are outside forces that have had a bigger influence on Bitten's production than has his play on the ice.

In the first couple of months, the Bulldogs were last in the OHL in goals for. They were still winning games, but had very little finishing ability. Bitten was contributing to that issue, but due to being more of a playmaker, it was hard for him to get his name on the boxscore at the end of some very low-scoring games.

Hamilton got some much needed help when they traded for Ryan Moore and Nicholas Caamano, who are not OHL stars but can be very impactful players, and had already developed chemistry with Bitten from their time with the Flint Firebirds. The acquisitions coincided with the diminutive forward's increase in production.

Then came February and an ankle injury for Bitten, which kept him out of most games for a couple of weeks. He came back from it rapidly, but might not have been in full form playing the last games of the season until recently.

If you have been following this series this season, you have likely seen my persistent confidence in Bitten, despite his highs and lows.

The source of it is simple: no matter which of Bitten’s games you choose to watch, there's one consistent element in his play, and that’s his high effort level. Sometimes an absurdly high effort level.

The clip below should convince anyone of the giant size of Bitten's heart ... figuratively, but perhaps also literally, as I'm unsure how someone could have the energy to pull off everything he did in that shift.

He charges through the neutral zone to put double pressure on one of the Niagara defenders, finishes his check, does the same on the other defender on the opposite side, finishes his check again, follows the puck behind the net back to the other defender, plasters himself and an opponent against the boards for a third time, creates a scoring chance from the loose puck, skates back on defence with a little sympathetic push by Ryan Moore and finishes his on-ice stint battling along the boards at the other end of the ice.

This is a sequence where Bitten barely let his foot off the accelerator. The diminutive forward has only one gear in pursuit of the puck, and it's full speed ahead.

While this grinding style of play defines Bitten in certain ways, it's first and foremost a complement to his great skating, puck protection, and passing skills. Those abilities don't equal those possessed by the very top players in the CHL, but distinguish him widely from other players on the ice on an average night.

No matter how Bitten does from now until the end of his junior career — and I fully expect him to bounce back in the playoffs — he will be a great addition to the Laval Rocket next year, and one of the players who could very well turn the mess that is the Habs’ farm team right into a much more exciting club.

Josh Brook #2, RD, Moose Jaw Warriors

Brook has 11 points in his last 20 games. In the first 25, he had 21. This is a difference from 0.84 points per game to 0.55. The first ratio resembles the contribution of a top WHL defenceman, or at least one capable of making an offensive impact, while the second one is closer to middling production.

Those two stretches are not long ones. Brook’s season as a whole was shortened by injury, but it still shows a significant difference in the defenceman's output.

This drop is also reflected in his play on the ice. He is one of the better defencemen in his league, there's no doubt about that, with a skill set alone that would make him the top blue-liner on many teams. But he has taken few steps forward this season.

The number-one reported issue with his play last year was consistency. And that hasn't changed. He has the tools to be a force in transition and at the point for his team, but it hasn't materialized in most games, especially in the last couple of months.

He had to take a step back in the depth chart with the arrival of Kale Clague and was not being put consistently on the first unit of the power play, but the addition of another great player to the already stacked Moose Jaw Warriors should not have resulted in this kind of slide for him considering the supporting cast he has every night.

The expectations are higher for the Habs’ second-round pick. But with the playoffs starting very soon for the Warriors, Brook will have a chance to step up to the challenge and prove to everyone what he is capable of.

When the game is on the line, the prospect has shown this season that he wants to be on the ice to decide its fate. He has to play every minute like it’s overtime, showing confidence, and using his talent to make a difference.

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

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 62 20 44 64
Michael Pezzetta C OHL Sarnia 62 23 29 52
Cale Fleury RD WHL Regina 68 12 39 51
Jarret Tyszka LD WHL Seattle 70 8 32 40
Scott Walford LD WHL Victoria 69 2 32 32
Josh Brook RD WHL Moose Jaw 45 3 29 32