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Catching The Torch: Samuel Houde’s quest for a breakout season

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

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Chicoutimi Sagueneens v Blainville-Boisbriand Armada Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/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, QMJHL, WHL) and collegiate (NCAA) levels.

The Chicoutimi Saguenéens should dominate the QMJHL this season. Their blue line still need some tweaking for a deep playoff run, but the forward group the club has assembled is intimidating.

With the experience of a rookie year under their belt, highly regarded draft-eligible players Hendrix Lapierre and Théo Rochette should help carry the attack. This off-season the team also added regional native Rafaël Harvey-Pinard to support the young core of the team. Harvey-Pinard is poised for a productive over-age season slotted to the left of Rochette.

These are all positives for Samuel Houde, a fellow Sag. As a fourth-year veteran, he will get his chance to compete for a title — an opportunity that is not given to all of his peers. The only downside for Houde is that he slides down the lineup at even strength, and that could affect his point total.

In the first few games of the season, Houde filled both the centre and wing role on the team’s second and third line. Unless there are injuries or he is moved permanently to the flank he will likely hover inside the middle six during the season.

Houde needs a breakout. Both his draft year and the one that followed were disappointing production wise, especially for an eighth-overall selection in the QMJHL draft.

His skill earned him the high pick. It also proved to be intriguing enough for Montreal to use a fifth-round selection on the Blainville native at the NHL draft. But now it’s time to ink a contract with the organization, and that won’t happen unless Houde can produce at the level of his talent.

With four points in the same number of games to start the 2019-20 season, the prospect seems to be on the right track.

His deadliest weapon is his shot. With the passing talent Chicoutimi possesses on the half-wall, Houde has been tasked with manning the point on the powerplay, something he also did at times last season. This means that he has to release further from the net, but it also unlocks some other tricks.

His release doesn’t fool goalies like some of the league’s top goal-scorers’; the netminders often know when Houde is looking to shoot. The difference now with his position at the blue line on the power play is that he has the benefit of multiple screens, as well as the necessary time to pick corners.

Samuel Houde wears #88 with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens.

Houde is also learning to manipulate the defence inside his release to raise his shooting percentage. Saturday, against Gatineau, as he advanced toward the top of the circles, left shoulder dropped, preparing his shot, then he faked a weight shift by twitching his inside leg. The defender that should have been covering him bit on the move. The defenceman went into a blocking position, and let the forward take another unimpeded step toward the net.

Houde didn’t miss his occasion to fire from the slot, and Gatineau’s goalie couldn’t do much about the puck zipping past his left ear toward the top of the cage.

Chicoutimi’s power play should be working at full gear this season with the talent they can combine. Houde could become instrumental as a shooter at the top of the formation.

The Habs prospect is not only a triggerman. His ability as a passer also stood out in these first few games. He was distributing the puck on the power play, but also in one particular play in the season-opener.

Stuck in a tight scrum on the boards in the neutral zone, back turned to the opposing net, Houde located a teammate heading toward the offensive blue line with speed, and sent the puck his way with a deft backhand touch. The play turned into a breakaway goal.

Houde accustomed us to stretches like these first few games last season, when he put up close to a point-per-game performance before slowing down. Experience, a strong supporting cast, and a higher shot volume — he already has 13 through four games — should help him not fall into his old ways and instead finally achieve consistent numbers.

His skating still presents the greatest hurdle in his path to become an everyday contributor. The issue may be more about how he uses his feet in his attacks (e.g. approaching defenders at an angle, changing gears) than the speed they can generate, which has improved over the seasons. More on this aspect of his game will come in the next editions of the series.

Allan McShane, C, Oshawa Generals

McShane picked up where he left off in the first week with a three-point performance: a goal and two assists versus the Kingston Frontenacs.

Mutiple times in that game, the forward imposed himself physically, which is something we didn’t see of him in his first two years in the OHL. It has grown to be an integral part of his game after being selected by the Canadiens.

His most interesting sequence was on the penalty kill at the start of the third period. He pressured the defenceman at the top of the formation, created a turnover, and accelerating onto the loose puck in the neutral zone.

McShane didn’t have the speed to separate from the pursuing defender. This sequence shows how an extra gear would have facilitated the play for the prospect; he could have just escaped with the puck for a breakaway chance with a bit more pace. Arguably an even more important aspect of a prospect’s game is adaptability, or finding ways around weaknesses. That is exactly what McShane did on the play.

He picked up the puck, waited a second for the defenceman racing back to level with him, then crossed his feet for a quick burst that brought him just in front of his opponent, enough to extend his right knee to block the defender’s passage and beat him to the slot.

McShane let the puck float up the ice to execute the manoeuvre, needing to use his right arm — the top one on his stick — to push back against the opponent. He regained possession just in time to go forehand-backhand and beat the goalie. It was a great display of creativity, skill, and strength from the prospect to overcome the lack of speed.

He now has accumulated six points in his first four games, keeping up the point pace of his dominant end to the 2018-19 season.

CHL Weekly Stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 2 0 1 1
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 2 2 0 2
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 2 0 2 2
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 3 3 2 5
Jacob LeGuerrier 2017 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 2 0 1 1
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 2 1 0 1
Gianni Fairbrother 2017 LD WHL Everett Silvertips Injured

CHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 4 0 1 1
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 4 2 2 4
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 3 0 2 2
Allan McShane 2018 LW/C OHL Oshawa 4 3 3 6
Jacob LeGuerrier 2017 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 4 0 3 3
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Prince Albert 4 1 2 3
Gianni Fairbrother 2017 LD WHL Everett Silvertips Injured